Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Importance of Choice and Voice in Primary Grades.

I remember having a conversation with my son when he was in grade 9. His teacher had given him a self
directed project to do. He got to choose the topic and the format for the presentation, he even got to create the rubric for assessment. What a great opportunity right? He didn't think so and neither did many of his friends. Ï remember him saying "It isn't fair. We have NO IDEA WHAT THE TEACHER WANTS. How are we suppose to do the right thing if he doesn't tell us what he wants?" Instead of being happy about the freedom he had been given he felt frustrated, afraid and very anxious.

It isn't surprising either. Up until that point he had been taught that school was about creating a product that conformed to a series of guidelines determined by the teacher. He was told what was important to know, he was handed the information or guided to the information sources and he created very tidy projects to represent the learning he had been asked to master. He had learned to play by the rules and when he was told he was old enough to help write the rules he didn't feel he had any ability to do so.

If we are going to ask students to be responsible for their learning as teens (and I think it is important that we do) we need to make sure that as elementary school teachers we are setting them up for success. Students need to feel that they have a voice in their education early on. They need to understand that they have knowledge to share, add value to a classroom and most importantly have the power to learn not only from the teacher but from each other and from other resources.

My struggle as an early french immersion teacher is in trying to make that happen. How do we encourage this in those early grades? How do we give students the desire to "find out" and the tools to do that? How do we foster curiosity and encourage discovery? How do we help students make mistakes and learn from them? How do we help students understand that as learners they hold the power?

One way I've been trying to help students take responsibility for learning is through art integration. I've had the chance to be involved in an Arts Infusion grant these last two years. Working through projects with our visiting artist has been an learning process for me and my students. You can read about some of the projects here . You can read more about Art integration here. It's a work in progress for me and I still have a lot to learn.

Another interesting idea for teaching students that they can be independent learners is Genius Hour. You can read about it here: http://www.geniushour.com/   I haven't tried doing this yet. I'm still trying to figure out what it would look like in a grade 1 french immersion class but I've been inspired by Stephanie Bartlett  to give it a try for next year.

What did I learn at school today? Well I learned that I want to do a better job of fostering independence and creativity with my students. I want to find ways for them to feel empowered as learners. I want them to get to grade 9 and say "Yes! A project. I love projects!"  What about you? Are you already doing a good job of this? How do you help students in our classroom feel empowered to learn?

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