12 December 2010

Out of control = anxiety or ??? student led learning ???

This week I received some constructive feedback from a colleague. Included in the feedback was a comment about control. I think the comment made, that I feel more relaxed when I am in control, is very true. In fact, I tend to get fairly stressed when I feel like things are getting "out of control". Being relaxed is a good thing, but is being "in control" always a good thing? For example, I tend to be fairly reluctant to go to new places, where I don't know exactly what the facilities will be, and by a method of transport over which I have no control. Funnily enough, I'm happy enough to fly places, but really don't like bus travel. Even in Australia I would much rather drive myself somewhere than be driven by someone else, no matter how competent and safety conscious that driver is (although capital city public transport is OK). To get back to the topic, I wonder, is it possible that more learning might take place if I somehow lighten the level of control I have in the classroom? It was suggested that this this is indeed the case.

The Oxford Dictionary defines control as "the power to influence or direct people's behaviour or the course of events". As a teacher, especially of young children, I definitely have a level of "control" in their lives. This is a huge privilege and also a huge responsibility and I pray that this will be a good thing and not negative.

So, how can I lighten control in my classroom, and do I really want to? I mentioned earlier in the year some reading I was doing about differentiation through personality types, and this reminded me that we are all individuals, and some children learn best in ways that are almost polar opposites to my personality type. They need to talk about things to process them. They need to move in order to learn. They learn best by doing. Some children learn best with lots of freedom, while others learn best with lots of structure. Children need to be able to make choices about their own learning. At the same time, because they are children, they need guidance as they make those choices. Rather than "free" choices, children need to be offered two or three choices, all of which are helpful to the children's learning.

Consider another example. Have you ever had to write an assignment, and been given free choice as to what you write about? How difficult did you find that? Some people will not have had a problem with this at all. Others will be totally lost. What about in the classroom? Should the children have a free choice about what they learn? Or should they just be given some choices within certain parameters that will guide their learning.

One thing I've been working on this year in the classroom is the whole issue of classroom noise. Should children be allowed to talk whenever they like, about whatever they like, at whatever volume they choose? Should children be free to talk as they complete worksheets, or does this need to be done in absolute silence? In the past I thought it had to be silent, but I'm learning that some talking is OK. Something I've been really conscious about, especially in Mathematics classes, is allowing students to talk quietly while they are completing worksheets. The same applies in Language Arts. I still need to work on this, but I think it's a step in the right direction. I haven't seen it, but I've heard about teachers who have "noise meters" in their classrooms. Depending on the activity, the teacher chooses a level of "noise" that is acceptable. For example, during a spelling test, the level might be set at silent, but during project work time, it might be set at "normal voices".

I sense that there are many more ways that I can relinquish "control" without learning being reduced, and in fact, it may even be enhanced. So what does it look like when the children take greater control of their own learning. Can I facilitate learning that might just take a different direction to the one I initially planned, but which is equally (or even more) beneficial to the students' learning? If you are a teacher (or parent) and are reading this, and have ideas that might help me (or others), please leave a comment. I will be continuing to contemplate these issues, and also to look at what God has to say about them, in the days, weeks and months to come.

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