Sunday, February 10, 2013

I'm Not in Control of My Class

Who is in control?
Photo Credit:
 Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc 
I don't want to be in control of my class. I don't want to be the type of teacher that sets the rules for the class, tells her students what and how to do things, and is the sole leader in the room.  I don't want that for my students. I don't want that for me.  I  want my students to be in control of their learning.  But what am I doing to achieve this goal of mine?

I've blogged about it a few times already how I give my students choice when it comes to their word work, their writing, their reading and many concepts taught in math. Yes I have literacy and numeracy stations for my students to work with, but I don't tell them which stations/activities they should go to.  I rarely expect everyone to do the same thing in the same way.  I am open to hear their suggestions, and I'm more likely to say "sure" if they have a clear understanding of why they want to do something differently than I had thought about.

I let my students work where they want to work. For some it's at a desk, for others it's with friends at the carpet, or around the class round table.  For others it's outside the classroom door on the carpet in the hallway. I no longer care where they learn, as long as they are learning.

In most cases I let my students choose if they want to work on their own or with a friend or two.  I've listened in on the negotiating that goes on when students work together to achieve a shared goal.  I know that  I learn more when I learn with others so I want that option for my students too. But I'm just as okay with them working on their own, if that's what they want to do.

Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc
I use a LOT of turn and talk during group discussions. A LOT! I feel as though it gives each of my students a voice during discussions.  We use it to share our reflections, our connections, our predictions, our ideas. We use this strategy a lot.

I do very little whole class activities. Yes we meet for many mini lessons on specific topics or skills but my walls aren't covered with similar looking art work, or similar writing pieces.  At first this bothered me because my room doesn't look like other classrooms I've been in but neither does my teaching.

I don't spend hours on Pinterest looking for cute activities to do with my class. I'm not about cute I'm about good teaching and learning practices.  But don't get me wrong I do see the value of many of the resources shared there, but I also see a lot of cute.

I explicitly teach social emotional skills.  In fact there is time blocked out in my weekly timetable called community square where we discuss social emotional concepts.  Explicitly.  We've talked about using I Messages to solve problems,  how to solve problems, how to use our voice, how to change negative thoughts into positive thoughts, how to be brave, how our brain works, strategies to keep calm, and strategies to regain calmness.  The list goes on and on but the important thing is that I do EXPLICITLY teach these skills.  But I also I reinforce them over, and over again through out the day. Each, and every day.

I don't spell for my students as a first go around. I encourage my students to try to write on their own. We celebrate those attempts. Mistakes are celebrated in my classroom because that is where the learning takes place.

I encourage my students to self assess their work. Sometimes it's with a four point scale - 1 - I didn't work well at all, 2. I worked but not my best, 3. I did my best, 4. I surprised myself and did even better than I thought I could. Sometimes it's with a thumbs up or thumbs down.  Sometimes still it's through a private conference where they let me know what they've done well, and what they would like to improve. There is a lot of goal setting happening in my classroom, and ultimately my students are doing the goal setting.

Photo Credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via Compfight cc
But when I talk about what I'm doing in my class I tend to get two main "yah buts". Yah but what about the students that can't handle this freedom? Yah but if everyone is doing something different at the same time how do you assess what they are doing?

I have students who sometimes have trouble with this extra freedom to learn in ways that work best for them.  This is where my role as the teacher comes in to play.  While my students have choice, I still monitor and support those choices as needed.  Those that need more guidance get more guidance from me.  Some take longer to take over their learning in various situations but eventually they all seem to thrive in this environment.  And my students are very typical. They have wiggles and giggles like six and seven year olds should have. They come from different home backgrounds with a unique variety of challenges and strengths.  I strongly believe that putting my students at the centre of their learning embraces all their similarities and differences.  Providing my students with choice hasn't made my job easier, it's made it more difficult but that hard work is worth it. I LOVE having motivated, self directed engaged students.

Now assessment for me doesn't seem to be as difficult as a concept as others seem to want to make it.  My prescribed learning outcomes are clearly stated in my government documents. If I focus my assessment on those clearly stated requirements how my students chose to demonstrate those expectations is some what irrelevant for me.  But again, I'd be lying if I didn't say that this is more work for me too.  My students don't fit into a cookie cutter data gathering standard assessment tool.  Each student is assessed individually, and the knowledge I gain from that assessment guides the way I push/encourage/support them to reach their next level.

So in my room I try hard not to be in control of my class. I want each of my students to be in control of their own learning. Who is in control of your class?


  1. Karen,

    We have so much in common...Hugh and I area doing a lot of the same things in our 6/7 class. But I love that you are able to do this all in grade one! Offering students choice and giving them ownership over their own learning is so important to me too! Hugh and I definitely try to be the guides on the side rather than the teacher in control at the front!

    Would love to chat with you about how assessment works for you though...I am doing a LOT of self assessment these days (students make rubrics, assess themselves, reflect in ePortfolios and/or blogs) but I have very few types of "old school" assessments going on right now. And I am still torn about how I feel about that.

    Sometimes I worry that we don't have enough tests...but I'm not a test type teacher really. We do projects and educreations and other ways of showing our learning...but every once in a while I panic. What if it isn't formal enough??

    What types of assessment are you using? Is it mostly one on one? I tried that...and I just love having a conversation with a student about their learning, but it is really time consuming too...

    Would love to see a conversation start here about authentic assessment and how it looks in people's classrooms!

    :) Gallit

    1. In my mind assessment isn’t something we do to our students, it’s something we do with our students. The documentation of learning is key, and the conversations around that documentation is important too. Sometimes it does boil down to whether they have or have not mastered a specific skill at that point in time. But assessment is on going, and it’s more than a one stop snap shot.

      My students talk about their learning a lot. If you check out their individual blogs you can listen to them talk about what they have done. When I listen to them speak I often hear the thinking behind their learning. Technology has helped capture a lot of individual data for me.

      Traditional doesn’t have to mean bad either. For me it’s more about constantly looking at what my students are doing, how they are changing, and how I can help foster their growth.

      If you are getting the assessment data that is meeting the need without giving tests do you really need those tests? It is something to think about. And yes, I realize grade one curriculum is a whole lot different than grade six/seven curriculum. We are far less focused on content, and far more focused on mastery of skills.

      I, like you, struggle with finding the time to have those 1:1 private conversation over a piece of writing or a short passage of reading. I also struggle with recording what I’m hearing and learning about their learning during our informal conversations or observations. That’s where I struggle most. But the more I know my students, the better I am able to guide them in their further steps of growth. Make sense?

      I also could do better at providing my students more opportunity to self assess. Yes, we do self assess but it isn’t as engrained into my classroom structure as I’d like it to be. Listening to Anne Davies the other day made me realize that I certainly can do more in this area. That is yet another one of my goals. My brain hurts.

  2. Sometimes I feel like a benevolent dictator when I am wishing to be more like a facilitator. I set the road map, I set the constraints/parameters and students are expected to come along for the ride. Slowly this is changing and my classroom is becoming decentralized. Choice and voice grows. Democracy blossoms. Little inroads are made with #GeniusHour, problem solving, research projects and independent reading selections that bloom a love of the written word. It's a slow march towards students being in charge. I think it's a slow march to strengthen democracy and civic action. Thanks for the insightful blog post!

    1. MIchelle, my pleasure. It's been said over and over again the the twitter verse - learning is messy. Once we can learn to live with mess the rest just seems easier to deal with. Don't get me wrong though, I work a lot harder now than I have in the past. I'm okay with that though because I think I'm a better teacher now, than I have been in the past.

  3. What's wrong with being a "soul leader"? :-) I am assuming you meant you do not want to be the sole leader but rather the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage".

    1. Busted and fixed. I'm sure there are other errors in the post. I, like my students, make many mistakes too. :-)

  4. This post of yours really intrigued me Karen, but I was also very intrigued by Gallit's comment on assessment. For the past couple of years, my school has been focusing on Success Criteria and Learning Goals. I think that this makes it easier when differentiating assessment. The Success Criteria are based on specific curriculum expectations, and the Learning Goals are based on overall expectations. With the focus being on expectations instead of on the same project for everyone, you can quickly see how different projects can be assessed using similar expectations.

    Both you and Gallit made me think as well because I'm struggling with using traditional and non-traditional forms of assessment. I teach Grade 6 this year, and it's an EQAO year. I'm not going to get into a big discussion on my thoughts on EQAO, but I am going to say that I think I do my students a disservice if I don't expose them to similar types of testing throughout the year. So I work closely with my teaching partner, Gina, and we attempt to balance things out: we sometimes give tests and quizzes, but we also regularly give open-ended assignments, and we have students record their thinking often, but we also frequently conference with students (individually and in small groups), and we give descriptive feedback to them based on Success Criteria, and they give descriptive feedback to each other (and sometimes self-assess) based on Success Criteria, and sometimes we use rubrics as well (teacher-created, student-created, or co-created). It's not a perfect system, but we're continuing to work at it.

    I think that assessment is crucial, and certainly something to consider as you give students more control in the classroom, for there's often a question on if you're meeting all expectations. With good assessment and evaluation practices, you know that you are and you can prove it. Thanks for giving me so much to think about.


    1. Focus and purpose of lessons is important in all lessons - with choice or without. Assessment of learning is important too. I think each individual teacher needs to find the assessment tool that best meets their individual or student needs. What I feel is important though is that some time and thought is put in to what tool is being used to asses and why. If I want to see if my students can spell specific words I will make sure they spell those words for me, independently. That's pretty traditional but it meets the criteria for assessing that specific learning focus. When teachers know why they are doing what they are doing, assessing that why, and how that assessment occurs becomes a lot clearer.

      Thanks, as always, for adding to the conversations Aviva. Our discussions in the past continue to play a big rule in my present day thinking.

  5. Toughtful and timely as usual, Karen. As you know we have been working on making assessment more real and visual for our grade ones as well. I enjoyed reading and talking to Anne Davies also on this topic gaining a deeper understanding of using assessment to enhance the learning of my students. One of the ways we are working on this in our class is co constructing criteria for success with our students. This is developed in their own language and posted in the room. It is added to as we grow. We have also created a writing continuum for students to use in their self assessment. I think making it visual is helpful for me and the students.
    I like how you assess individually. I do believe formal reading assessments helps me target goals for my students and push them. It is costly in time, though I like using the video of their reading to help.
    Thanks for sharing your journey of giving up control, I'm giving it up as well, though some days I find myself taking it back - so I appreciate your posts a d our chats!
    Thanks you, Karen

    1. Lora, while I wasn't able to attend the conference where Anne Davies spoke I am so glad I was able to join the more intimate conversation with her this past week. I love the idea of co constructing criteria for success and I will get there, I just need another week to find the calmness in my room again. We have WAY too much going on at the moment but the end is near.

      I do have a writing criteria chart clearly posted in my classroom already but I wrote it in my words with my students. We will be writing another one but this time in the language of my students.

      I had so much to think about after our discussion with Anne Davies. I've struggled with rubrics assessment for a long time because I don't think many students fit into just one box. A list of criteria sits a lot better with me. It just makes more sense to me.

      Anyhow, thanks for always pushing my learning. I most certainly don't know it all, but I love learning as much as I can. Things are constantly changing too so it's great to have friends like you to help push my thinking. One day the three of us will get to work together. :-)

  6. On project days, when the walk through begins, the principal always looks for my posted objectives. I have them on the screen in the powerpoint and flip to it, but really, the students are learning what they need to learn to solve the task we work on.

    Whether a teacher is specifically teaching to an objective, or not, the student can only learn what s/he is ready and willing to learn.

    So in my class, I design projects wherein they apply the required objectives. As they work, I observe who needs help, monitor, and offer feedback that helps them succeed at the objective each is working on in the project. In my gradebook, I have blanks -- spaces to fill as the student demonstrates the skill. We have lessons. mini-lessons, examples, models, discussions, reflections. Sometimes the students do the lessons, if they are the experts.

    And sometimes, we're a traditional classroom; I favor the workshop / project platform for optimal engagement and learning.

    What you and the others are doing in your classrooms is commendable and I look forward to following your journey, and hope to meet its promise.

    1. It's interesting, the last time I've seen posted objectives, like written right on the group meeting place white board, was while I was visiting a school in Australia in March 2011. At the time i found it a bit strange because these were children that were not reading, yet here at their meeting place the objective of the lesson was clearly written on the bulletin board. What I tend to do is in my planning document (which I call a day book) I clearly (most of the time) write down what the focus of my lesson is. It helps keep me on track, and I can, when necessary relate this information to my students.

      As most are alluding to, there are times for traditional teaching and assessment practices too. I totally get that. As much as I try I can assure you my students don't have choice with everything they do. I wish it could be like that for me (and my students) but I'm not there yet either. It's a journey for us and I'm happy that I'm taking these risks and seeing where they take me. I'm sure there will be many bumps along the way though.

    2. This is my first year posting all (almost all) Learning Outcomes on the board & making them clearly known to the students and I really like it!

      I'm pretty sure it was Hugh's idea.

    3. Yes, I think it is important to share those learning intentions, but I found it strange to have them written in a classroom of non readers. Hmm....

  7. Awesome post! Choice seems to be a hot topic this weekend. :) I completely agree with you: STOP DOING THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE CUTE. Huge pet peeve of mine. I'm glad you agree. I've also found that carving out time for social emotional skills has benefited my students. It weaves into everything they do and can be a huge barrier if emotions are not talked about and problems aren't solved. I'm so glad to hear you're doing this in your classroom too. I really like your four point scale of assessment you use. It's straight to the point. I also agree with your statement about how some students need more guidance from teachers than others. And we aaaaallll know who those students are before an activity even begins! You seem to have more time to give to those students though when the other students are engaged in demonstrating their learning in their own way. Thanks for a fantastic blog post. :)

    1. I smiled when I read your post yesterday. I've been sitting on my blog post title for a bit now but just haven't been able to make the time to write the post. This morningI finally did.

      Explicit teaching of social emotional skills is really important and it's had a huge benefit in my classroom. If you had spoken to me in Sept and October you would have known that I was leaving work on Mondays and Tuesdays feeling completely incompetent as a teacher despite having 20 years experience under my belt. What I need was to get everyone on my class on the same page, and teaching social emotional skills helped get them there. Now my class is a dream class despite the challenges that are in it. We work as a family to support one another. I am no longer running the show.

    2. Oh...not even a little bit of cute in arts/crafts?? I have to admit I like pinterest and I do get the odd craft idea from there!

    3. Gallit, I wish so much that I was better at teaching art. I've seen some amazing art projects that teach specific concepts of art. That's what I'd love to be doing, not cute crafts. I'm as far from crafty as they get.

  8. Sheri, much of what I do is exactly as you described above...I guess I am just a little concerned that more and more often these days the checks are being made based on conversations/observations and less and less often from written work (tests, quizzes, sheets, etc).

    It works well for oral language/social is really in Math where I am looking for different types of assessment! We are doing a lot of PBL in math and so there is less written work than before. And I love seeing them work through problems and help each other out. But I guess I am just worried that with so much group work it is hard to tell who really has mastered each outcome.

    We are beginning an individual math project now, so I am excited to see how that changes my ability to assess.

    Aviva and Lori, reading all of the fantastic comments above really makes me realize that, like most things in life, it really is all about balance! Need to get a variety of assessment styles in!

    Loving this discussion...I really believe we need to look at this carefully! The more that we personalize and differentiate learning (yay), the greater the need to assess current assessments!

    1. Gallit, even when my students work in groups I still need to find out if they can do x, y, or z independently if that is something I'm assessing. If you're not getting that information from your assessment then you *may* need to find a way to do that. 1:1 conferencing is so awesome for that and as someone mentioned on here, since my students are so independent I have more time for those one on one chats. It's the darn interruptions during my teaching day that bring me the most grief. Balance is key, and thinking about the tool or way you assess is important too. Thanks for adding to the conversation here. It's getting richer by the comment. :-)

  9. Karen,
    You have once again sparked some great discussion. I always enjoy reading and hearing from others on this topic. As Gallit and others have mentioned I am so amazed at what you are doing in your grade one class. I often talk with my colleagues on the fact that we would be so much further along with student learning if students were experiencing this form of assessment early on. Having students aware of their learning and able to express where they are and where they want to go is the goal for my teaching.
    Gallit made mention that she sometimes feels that she does not do enough old school assessment. This fall I had moments of apprehension as well as my Language Arts "marks" were very limited. Why do we feel that observation of student learning and their own assessments are not good enough? Maybe one day we will not feel like we need to fill a marks book with numbers instead use all we have aimed through the formative assessment approach. One can hope. Thanks for starting the conversation.

    1. Intermediate teaching in BC is different than primary teaching because we don't have to put a letter grade on our students report cards. That does make things different for me in comparison to you and Gallit (and those in Ontario that start giving letter grades as early as grade one.

      I often talk about this with my good friend and work colleague Erica. She gives her students descriptive feedback, but in her own book she rates their work on a ten point scale. The students never see this number though. It's her way of finding balance.

      Thanks for your kind words too AnneMarie. I work VERY HARD to do what I do with my students. I am passionate about my job and I care too much about my students to not give them my best. If I expect the best from them, I most certainly should be modelling my best for them. Like for them, it most certainly isn't always easy.

    2. You are so right, AnneMarie! Why do I feel like I need pages of marks?? Hmmm...thank you for bringing that up.

  10. Wow, what a great conversation! I also explicitly teach social skills because I see them as the foundation for all we do in school and society. Being ready to learn and take risks to explore new things depends so much on the environment in the classroom and a child's emotional security.

    In the area of assessment I have recently started looking at my students who fall in the "not yet within" category and refer to the previous grade's Performance Standards to see where they would land...and sometimes I have to go back even further. This gives me a better idea of where they fit on the developmental continuum and also gives me a concrete way to talk with parents about their child's progress and how we can work as a home and school team to move the child forward.

    This works with numeracy as well as reading, writing and social responsibility. I find this fits in well with PBL because it looks at the strands and not the individual PLOs. (I can't remember where I got this from, but it wasn't my idea!). I do rely on self reflection, observations and conferencing to gain the majority of my assessment data-however I still use a variety of more "traditional" assessments to establish baseline data (eg. for computational skills or decoding skills) and I feel it is important to expose children to a variety of assessment formats. (note the word expose, not torment!)

    The disconnect is really between the university expectations for percentages for applications and what we do as educators to develop skills. I really believe that until the universities change how they look at potential candidates and how they assess and rank for degree granting, we will be required to play their game to some extent.

    As far as the "cute" stuff goes...I'm guilty as charged! I do enjoy a little cute from time to time, especially when its seasonal and it teaches a process or skill.

    Thanks for such a lively and well thought out post Karen!

  11. Dianna if your "cute" is teaching a process or a skill then the chances are it's more than just cute.

    I like your idea of looking at the performance standards from levels other than your own. I also agree that there is a time and place for traditional assessments. Just on Wednesday I checked to see if my students could read out weekly word wall words. In a very traditionally way I listed to each student, one at a time, read the list of words to me. Im not sure how else I would have known if they knew them or not, and which words we still need to work on. No where am I saying that all traditional ways of assessing are bad. It's way more about the thought behind the choice when choosing an assessment tool

    So many amazing SD36 teachers leaving comments on this blog this evening. What an amazing group of educators I'm fortunate enough to work so closely with. Thanks for taking the time to share your thinking too.

  12. I teach choice based art classes, but don't agree 100% with you about Pinterest. I don't do cookie cutter art, but Pinterest goes way beyond cookie cutter art ideas. It is a place you can find links to scholarly ed articles, and techniques for ways to use art media, as well as recipes for home made art materials. I do a lot of demos of materials in my classes, and help students to expand their thinking about ways they might use materials. I've found plenty of ideas on Pinterest that I've been able to incorporate into my teaching without ending up with class sets of nearly identical art. You might enjoy reading my blog about choice based art ed. Here's the link:

    1. Frances, I love what you are doing in your art classes. I need a lot of help there so I will be sure to check out your blog.

      If you reread what I wrote about Pinterest you'll see that i agree there is a lot of good there too. But I also see a lot of cookie cutter crafts. I am trying to avoid those in my classroom. I must admit I still have a way to go there too.

  13. So much amazing discussion happening here! I would love to say that students are in control in my classroom, but I know that's not always the case. I have a long way to go! I've changed nearly everything that I do this year, and have experienced a lot of learning myself. In particular, I've come to realize that many students are not ready for such open ended learning despite my passion and encouragement; my mission is to keep pushing them to be more creative, more inquisitive, and more engaged. I've definitely moved toward choice for students, but like Gallit, assessment remains my biggest challenge. Don't get me wrong... I constantly advocate for student choice (in any program!) and I have nothing but admiration for people like you, Karen, who seem to have had so much success! It's just so hard to maintain when it's not what the majority of classrooms look like! It makes me feel like I have to justify students' learning in a way that "everyone" understands rather than in the way I feel is best. I have moved towards more self assessment with my grade sevens and I continue to offer descriptive feedback but I do still use rubrics as well. I agree that conferencing is probably one of the most valuable approaches, along with self reflections and portfolios. I think those three methods would accurately represent almost any student's learning. My question is, why is that not enough?

    I think the major issue lies with report cards. I try to encourage my students to reflect deeply on their learning (where they are, where they want to go, how they're going to get there) but as long as I have to attach a letter grade to it at term's end, as grade sevens, many will not just let go and let the learning happen. So much unlearning to do!

    This is why it's so crucial to support each other along our own personal learning journeys :)


    1. Beverley thank you or taking the time to leave such a thought provoking comment. I agree there is a lot of great discussion here. I do believe when we give our students a role in assessment of their learning, just like when we give them choice in how to learn, show, and share their knowledge, they are a whole lot more apart of their learning. That's what I strive for with my teaching. But, I am not saying that I sit off to the side and let my students learn how they choose to learn. The reality is the more choice I give my students the more I have to be on top of everything. I must be watching and facilitating as needed. Rarely will you see me sitting and just looking at work with out a child right near me. I look for any free moment I can to grab a student and have that quality 1:1 time with them because I believe that is the best way I can meet each and every student's need- or at least that's my goal.

      As I said earlier, I don't have to assign letter grades of any sort so unlike you it isn't something I have to unteach my students. But what about if you never give your students grades, yet you keep a simple form of them in your mark book so when you "have to" assign a grade on the report card you have some "numbers" to help you assign your letter grade. If your students are doing everything they are doing then that really should be enough no? And why do you feel you have to justify yourself to others? I stopped justifying a long time ago. When I need to explain what and why I do what I do I can and will.

      Beverely if it makes you feel any better my class looks different from any other I've been in. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing things wrong but more often than not I am doing what I'm doing because I honestly believe it is the right way for my students. I am a very reflective practitioner and I no longer do things just because "everyone is doing them". That isn't good enough for me any more. I am conscious with most of the decision I make with regards to my students. I'm not perfect of course but I am trying to do my very best with the knowledge that I have about my students and their learning styles. Looking forward to seeing you F2F again. I wonder if they will bring our group back together anytime soon.

  14. Hi Karen,

    You put into words EXACTLY what I've been working hard to explain to my students and their parents. In fact, I posted your blog on our classroom website, directing parents to read it!

    All to often, I hear "but they're only six and seven". I think the idea of students being too young to understand or make appropriate choices resolves them of their responsibility -- when strategies are taught,carefully modeled, and consistently emphasized throughout the year, young students CAN and will do these, and more!

    Choice is incredibly important in the classroom, because it allows students an opportunity to show their learning in ways that are unique to them. We abide by four expectations in our classroom:

    1. Respect yourselves, each other, and our classroom
    2. Work as a team
    3. Use "build ups" and no "put downs"
    4. Listen attentively

    Provided my students are working on task and are giving their best, in consideration of these expectations, it doesn't matter to me where they are sitting, what tools they are using, or when they need to take a break to use the washroom or get a drink. We spend SO much time in September focusing on learning skills and goal-setting, that once we dive into the curriculum, they understand why taking 15 minute washroom breaks will not benefit their learning. Students will often move to a quieter place in the room, either because they were being distracted or they were doing the distracting, without being prompted to do so. The importance of having these continued conversations help them to reflect on their learning and their personal goals, which is something you addressed so eloquently in your post.

    I had to laugh when I read your opinion on "cute" -- my point exactly! I share with my students that our anchor charts are not intended to decorate the room, rather, they are tools that provide necessary strategies and steps, and are to be used daily to guide their thinking! In our classroom, we don't have room for anything that doesn't benefit our learning!

    Thank you for taking the time to share what works in your classroom, and what needs to be happening in classrooms across the world. Our students have voices that need to be heard,and they also need opportunities to make choices and take responsibility for their learning, even in primary...because they CAN =)


    1. MIchelle I love this part of your comment "I think the idea of students being too young to understand or make appropriate choices resolves them of their responsibility" and I could NOT agree more. I also love , "Our students have voices that need to be heard,and they also need opportunities to make choices and take responsibility for their learning, even in primary...because they CAN =)" That is why I do what I do.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment, and for posting this on your blog too. I hope it helps your community see a different side of "school". :-)

  15. I want my future class to be just like yours!! Thanks for this post.


    1. It is not easy, and it never will be for me when I let my students lead the way but I do believe it's the right way to teach. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. If you're ever in my part of the world please do say hello.

  16. Karen,
    I read your post when you published it, but there were so many items I wanted to comment on (I totally agree! or I wish I would have done that earlier! or I need to do that NOW! or I'm putting that down for next year for sure!), that I didn't know how to organize my thoughts to comment. Alas, I'm commenting now, but I'll still be all over the board.

    So... One thing I want to do is thank you. Just after I read this, I changed my self-assessment for Genius Hour to add a line about motivation. Many of my students are not choosing wisely when it comes to goals. They are all over the place, too, but I think it's just to placate me, and not because it's important to THEM. So I added a line like this - "How motivating of a goal was it for you?" Then I added your four-point scale - "I didn't work well at all," "I did my best," etc. I think this piece of the reflection will get them thinking of what motivates them, not just "I'll write a goal down so she's satisfied and I can get out of here."

    I'm currently reading Who Owns the Learning by Alan November, and I've been to his BLC conference in Boston where this idea was stressed. I've been trying. As you say, it can be more work for us. But in a different way. I think it's in a much better way than how I used to teach. Every child received the same work, and it was, many times, worksheets that were easy to grade in front of the television. Now I think more about EACH and EVERY one of the 63 students that come into room 239. I feel my instruction is much more personalized, and I feel the students KNOW we are not doing "meaningless" or "throw-away" work.

    Thank you so very much for sharing - sorry it took me so long to comment! Because I waited so long now I have to look at everyone else's comments and learn even more from them!

    Take care, and keep it up!

    1. Thanks tons for taking the time to leave this comment Joy. I too have been reading Who Owns the Learning by Alan November and I've been pleasantly surprised that I am, in many areas, on the right track. I'd love to go to his conference one day. One thing that I just learned last week after a small session with Anne Davies (a HUGH ASSESSMENT GURU), is that even when kids rate themselves we still need ask why they have given themselves the numbers they have given. I am always confused when I have students who have barely do any work and give them selves a three or a four. Anne clarified that we need to talk to those children to understand their thinking behind their rating. She said that sometimes kids have been working on one specific goal (such as writing their name neatly) and so if they have been successful with that goal then their work rating some just from that one goal. So, really 1:1 conferences are once again proven as the BEST way to truly assessment students. I keep trying to find ways to do this more.

    2. 1:1 conferences are my favorite part of the week. I do them every first day of the week, with half of the students. That way, I see the other half of the students the next week. I feel like I need to stretch it, though, to every three weeks, so I can pop around the class (this is during Genius Hour) and see what kids are doing, and then even have time for ME to model learning behavior as well. It's during the 1:1 conferences students fill out the reflection questions I have for them. I LOVE it! Best use of class time EVER! Good luck getting more time for this!

    3. Thanks, I do them every day, through out the day whenever I have time. Because my students are quite independent for so many parts of my day I am free to conference then. I agree that tgreat teaching/learning happens during those 1:1 conferences.

  17. It's February, and I can already say that you've written one of the best posts of 2013! I love every part of this post!

    You have empowered your students (and yourself) as learners first. School isn't about herding cattle through fenced-in graded classrooms, it is about students being set free, with a teacher helping to guide their path.

    Thanks for being so inspiring!

    1. Thanks Dave,

      I am trying to do what I think, at this moment in time at least, is the right thing for my students. Sometimes it's not easy though and I have constant questions and at times self doubt.

      I'm glad you've found what I'm doing inspiring. I need to hear that from time to time. It helps me get through the challenging times.

  18. Hi Karen,

    I discovered your blog through twitter and enjoyed this post.

    I'm an educator at an alternative, independent high school in Vermont, USA. We work with youth who -- for a variety of reasons -- haven't been successful in a typical school setting. Given this, we intentionally do school "different," in that we are very student-centered and student-directed -- in other words, we try out best to do the very things that you describe in your post!

    It's great to read such a thoughtful post about something that I believe is so important, and it's heartening to know that this approach is happening more and more in "typical" classrooms, rather than just in "alternative" schools.

    Speaking from my own experience, giving up control (without giving up on learning and growth) is far more challenging than keeping that control. It continues to be an ongoing process of learning and growth FOR ME, as I work to continually improve in my ability to support my students.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and motivating post!

    - Jenn (@jennEDVT)

    1. I couldn't agree more that "giving up control (without giving up on learning and growth) is far more challenging than keeping that control" but it just seems like such the right way for me to teach. This evening I was watching a video shared by Ira Socol and how students are learning in his school. Wow was all that I could say. It can be found here . It makes me wonder where my teaching is going to head, and if or when some one from above will step in and tell me that I've gone too far. Thank you for taking the time to leave me a thought provoking comment.

  19. Interesting Topic

    thanks for share thip topic ....
    riding gear california