January 24, 2013

Giving Students a Voice

Yesterday was a rough day with my magnet class. I started using daily centers in my classroom this semester, and this group has been giving me a lot of trouble. Although they are perfectly capable of doing my activities, which are differentiated for them, I have a hard time teaching in my "Work with Teacher" center because I have to keep stopping to redirect behavior (mostly constant, disruptive talking).

After weeks of "fighting" with them about why they need to use their time wisely, respect other workers, etc., I hit my breaking point yesterday. I literally told them I couldn't fight with them anymore because I was exhausted. I needed to hear suggestions from them about how to make our classroom work better.

What I learned from this discussion was actually priceless:

1. They do not like center activities. It makes them feel like they're in elementary school.
2. They miss reading books aloud as a class. We did this in the beginning of the year with A Child Called It, but since then, we've moved more toward reading workshop and book clubs. What they told me, though, is that they really like taking turns reading aloud (which they couldn't do when we read A Christmas Carol because they weren't able to read that text aloud with fluency) and discussing the books as a class. This is a VERY social group, and they love being able to share their thoughts with everyone.

My dilemma is that I am required (because of IEPs) to include small group instruction. I have one student, in particular, who has been failing my class all year, and I have to show that I've been meeting all of the requirements of her IEP in order to justify her grade.

So, I made a compromise. I told students, we would spend the first part of our block (50 minutes) working on whole-group activities, and then we'd have shorter, individual or partner activities during centers in the second part of the block. This way, I can pull specific students and work with them during center time, but students can still get their main instruction in a whole-group setting.

I also promised them that I would introduce more whole-class novels for us to enjoy and discuss together. The trick with this group, I know, is that they like books that are "forbidden." That was the main appeal with A Child Called It. It was a shocking story, so they were invested in the story as if it were a bad train wreck. It also gave them plenty to discuss (I stopped them every so often just to let them have a 60 second talk break with their partners where they could share their reactions as we read, and they loved this.). So, now I'm researching some more books to introduce to these kiddos (since most of my go-to options have been passed around during DEAR time).

They were thrilled with this idea. And today's lesson ran much more smoothly.

I learned (not for the first time) how important it is to give my students a voice in the classroom. They aren't rebelling against learning, just the style. I think they respect me more for hearing them out and reacting to their concerns, which I think is crucial with this age group.

I'm feeling more optimistic today, and my fingers crossed that this isn't just a temporary solution!


  1. I think that asking students opinions of what would work better is only ever a good thing! I hit a similar breaking point in one of my classes about 2 months ago and did the same thing - telling them I needed their help to know what could make things work better. I hope that the insights you gained will carry you at least until March Break;)


    1. Thanks, Krystal! Spring break isn't until the end of April around here, but we have Mardi Gras break in two weeks... it's all about making these mini-milestones, right?! :)