son, Kole came home from school yesterday with a small styrofoam
cup, with a lid, and a worm. The worm, presumably, was inside
the cup. Honestly, I didn't verify it.
spent the entire time of our drive home regaling me with the
story of the worm. A man had come to their school that afternoon
and gave them a wonderful informative lesson on worms and passed
out pet worms. To a 6 year old, this is just about as good as
a school day gets.
I said, "all your classmates took home worms today?"
not everyone," said Kole, "Some students didn't take worms."
I said, thinking about the age group "you mean some of the kids
thought the worms were too icky to take home?"
He said nonchalantly, "Some of the kids didn't choose to do
parents whose children attend a student-centered school, like
my son's Montessori school, statements like these are an everyday
event. But this statement struck a chord with me yesterday in
the car, with my son, and his worm, Fred.
all students are so lucky in their education. Not all children
get to go to a school where the afternoon presentation is viewed
as an option. Where some children who may find working the geography
puzzle more appealing than worms can live out their desire without
reprimand. Not all children have this opportunity to develop
responsibility, creativity and a positive view of learning.
It's a basic human need. Not only is it a basic human need,
it is a basic human right. Because with choice comes a sense
of control. A sense that I have some input in my life and in
what I do and in what happens to me. And because of that, I
must also take responsibility for myself and my state in life.
If I'm not learning, if this is not helping me meet my goals,
I have the power to change my behavior and my course. The absence
of this right is slavery.
I don't believe very many people (myself included) would advocate
total freedom of choice for children and their education. Obviously
they don't always have the ability to make good decisions and
their long term planning skills are less than mature. But I
do believe we need to look for more ways to add it into any
traditional "teacher-centered" classroom.
a strictly teacher-centered classroom the teacher makes all
decisions -from where the students sit to what they learn, when
they eat and even when they can go to the bathroom. Imagine
a child spending 7 hours a day in an environment where all decisions
are made by others. Now imagine this happening for 12 years,
at which time we turn this person loose in society and wonder
why he or she can't make good decisions, has no self control
and doesn't want to take responsibility for their actions.
most immediate benefit to running student-centered classrooms
is in the reduction of management problems. People want some
control. If you don"t give it to them, they will take it. This
power struggle for control leads to 99% of classroom management
problems. The easiest way to lessen the power struggle is to
allow the students to feel they have some control somewhere.
Imagine as an adult if you were living in a world where all
decisions were made by entities outside yourself. What if someone
told you what subject you would teach, where you would teach
it, what grade level, what text book, which pages you would
cover on which days, what assignments you would give students,
how you were to grade them, which projects you could assign,
when you could use the faculty bathroom or worse yet, who you
needed to ask to get permission to use the bathroom.
doubt some of you look at that list and find some or many items
that are in fact, controlled for you . Maybe you are assigned
a school or a text. Maybe you do give department designed tests.
Maybe you are told when you can leave your classroom. But I
will bet none of us have ALL those things assigned.
point here is that we can live with some things being "mandated".
My district can mandate the curriculum I teach. They can tell
me what text to use, when I have to turn in grades, what days
we have school, when to show up and when to attend faculty meeting.
But they don't dictate everything. I can teach the curriculum
in the order I see fit. I can use the text and supplement it
as I see fit. I can create my own projects, assignments and
lectures. There is choice somewhere.
are no different. Students don't mind you telling them what
they have to learn and when it is due and how it is to be graded
and what days and times they need to be at school. But could
they also have a little freedom within that structure to be
the most creative learner they can be?
Look for small areas where choice could easily be added. Could
they have some choice in the order in which they complete assignments,
the seat they sit in for certain things, the problem sets to
is a wonderful thing. Suddenly the student is in control. And
with that comes responsibility, creativity and feelings of self-worth.
When you offer choices you may find students doing what you
would have had them do anyway, but now you have their interest
and attention because THEY decided to do it.
Fred the worm slept in his styrofoam cup in my son's bookcase
likes the dark" I was told.
you ask him if he likes the dark?" I asked. "Maybe he's not
one of those worms that likes the dark. Did you ever think of
that? Why don't you give him a choice about where to sleep?"
he's just a worm".