The week before winter break has arrived! As I walk through the halls of each school, teachers have embraced the holiday cheer with fun leggings, themed ties and ugly sweaters. They often make small comments to me like, “only 2 more days!” or “we got this!” I have to admit, these are the days that I used to have anxiety over when I first started teaching. I used my free time to dream up activities to fill EVERY SINGLE minute of the day. Any unstructured time was not a recipe for success in my mind.
The normal patterns of school are disrupted.
The winter break used to bring a time of reflection. I would sit and create lists of things that I wanted to change when the students arrived in January. It wasn’t big changes, but little tweaks in management and classroom structure. I wanted to go back and make sure that learning was going to happen. When I think of this now, I realize how much I was over-structuring my class and making more opportunities for students who were compliant to be successful, but adding barriers to those students in which compliance was not their strong suit. What I needed was something to disrupt my patterns in teaching.
That disruption came the day my son brought home a spelling tic-tac-toe. Don’t get me wrong, if I were to google differentiated spelling, these amazing tic-tac-toe boards are an option. I loved these things, and then I had to do one as a parent. Yuck!!! As I observed my son week after week, I realized he was learning to memorize his spelling words by writing them as a rainbows, making a crossword and more. He was “doing” school and being compliant, but he was still a terrible speller. This rocked my world. All of my research around differentiation led me to believe that spelling tic-tac-toes were the right thing to do. I would have observations from administration that told me that they were a great opportunity for students to choose their learning, but I wanted to be distinguished. That one column to the far right on the Charlotte Danielson framework was my goal. I needed to change my patterns instruction to create patterns of learning.
How do we move from school-centered to learner-centered? This is a crazy thought. I had to do something crazy. I was going to get a way from spelling all together. What?? No spelling tests? How was I going to give a grade? The grade was not my priority, the learning was. I decided that I was going to help students learn that spelling words correctly was an essential skill and teach them how to find words to learn that were relevant to them, not me or a textbook. As a result of my change, other things started to happen. I was more engaged in discussions with my students around what they wanted to learn, and I wasn’t spending my weekends correcting papers only for them to throw them away. The students were doing the work and I was facilitating the learning.
So…back to the chaos of the days before winter break. Why are students so unruly and challenging this time of year? It could be many things, but I often wonder what the students would say is the reason. It also could be that we are all ready for a break and a fresh start.
What are you going to make a list about over break? What pattern are you going to disrupt? What are you going to challenge yourself to do to become more learner centered? Go for it! You got this!! I will be cheering you on and supporting the confusion that comes with it!