I’ve always had choice as a part of my classroom, but sometimes I forget how powerful giving choices can be. Our Social Studies unit has a lot of information packed in to the year: All you ever could learn about Ancient Civilizations in 180 days! We do a lot of great nonfiction reading strategies; we talk to the text, we discuss and gather information, metacognate and share our thinking with each other!
But sometimes I forget. I forget that I would need a break if I were a student in middle school, that I would want a chance to learn about things that I choose to learn about. (In reality, I’d probably want to just plan the whole curriculum if I were a student… but I’m taking baby steps here!)
Nobody is really pressuring me from above in terms of my pacing… I mean, we have a curriculum, and essential questions and a scope and sequence. There are activities for me to choose from, and everyone is very understanding. The last civilization we are supposed to learn about is Rome, and the general consensus is… Rome shouldn’t be but usually is taught in a week…. in June…. The real point is that we are teaching students those big ideas about Ancient Cultures and the pieces of what makes a civilization. But I still feel a certain amount of self pressure with my pacing – I’m perpetually behind.
But still… It’s a lot of reading, and note taking, and It had been awhile since I had “pirated it up” with cave painting and famous archeologist visitors… Our time in Egypt was limited, but I figured I could give the kids a day of choice. I took some of the activities that were in the unit, sent the kids a google doc, and let them loose. They could learn about Pyramids through a web quest that ends with a lego challenge, read about hieroglyphics and try their hand at writing some, or learn about papyrus and make some of their own.
Talk about an a-ha moment that I should not have to have over and over again. Forgot is the wrong word, lazy still doesn’t hit it. I have been trying to be engaging with the curriculum and the reading strategies, the content and the understandings… but that isn’t what engagement really is. Engagement is more about sending students on quests to their own understandings, getting out the glue, mixing up some quick papyrus, and sitting on the rug to build lego pyramids.
It is powerful to watch the student choose and engage in the curriculum. It shouldn’t be a treat really, it should be a normal. It is a goal of mine to find more times to step aside from the planning and have my students take the opportunity to direct their own learning.
It is sitting on the floor with the kids (or helping them dip paper bag strips into wet glue… ) that you find out who has a million legos at home, who doesn’t, who did the web quest, who didn’t, and who is understanding content, who isn’t. I’d say it’s a vital part of formative assessment, really.
Why is it that every time I remember to give choices, sit on the floor and build or create or read with a student I am reminded that I should do it every day. Get on the floor, dump out the legos and listen to all that my students know.
I say I’m doing it right when the principal walks in and she can’t see me right away… I have to raise my hand and say hello. That’s me, down on the floor with a pile of legos and a group of 6th graders who made their own choices about what and how to learn.