I’m not going to lie, as @benhazzard says, I am a bit of a control freak. I’ve always been that way – as a kid, my mom used to call me “Mother Hen” because I try to micro-manage and want pretty much everything go my own way. As a teacher, this trait can be very useful when you are trying to keep 30 grade nine students in line or when you students asking you a million questions at once and all expecting an answer, it’s great to be able to have a sense of control over the situation.

On the other hand, being a control freak can be a hindrance in the classroom. It is especially apparent when we discuss the “gradual release of responsibility model” or when you are trying to establish a culture of differentiated assessment. More and more, I’ve decided that I need to break the control freak aspect of my personality as I’m coming to realize that it’s best for my students.

My students are all different. They have different interests, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities and as their teacher, I really need to pay close attention to them because in the grand scheme of my job, they are what is important. I think sometimes we get too caught up in all the politics of the job and we lose sight of what is at the heart of it all.

Where this is all coming from is due to my inspirational visit to Zoe Branigan-Pipe’s (@zbpipe) classroom last week. All her students were working together at the same time on different tasks and the result was that the students were choosing to access tools and strategies that played to their strengths and so I decided to apply that to my grade nine English classroom.

This week in class I assigned a task for the students to research an element of wilderness survival. I did not dictate to them that they had to use a specific program, but rather opened it up for them to use any Web 2.0 tool or go old school and use paper if they desired. The result was that the students played around on my cool technology page on my wiki and gave a couple of tools a test drive. There were also students who were using Photoshop to take pictures and alter them as well as students creating a presentation using the Notebook Smart Board software. It was really great to see all these students working and I had very few disciplinary issues to deal with but what was even better was that I didn’t really have students tell me they didn’t know what to research or ask me the “why are we doing this” question. As I was looking around the room, all I could see was students working and having fun! Yes, I said having fun! They were laughing and joking with each other as well as sharing what they had put together and looking for feedback from their peers. It truly was amazing to observe and has solidified my thinking when it comes to differentiated assessment because if assigning a task like that can engage a class of 25, mostly male, grade nines, I’m all for it!

Image courtesy of http://photogruyere.romandie.com/category/7523/18232

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One thought on “Choices

  1. Wow! What amazes and impresses is that you have blurred the line that I so often see between elementary and secondary approaches. The idea that you could visit Zoe’s grade school class and then apply your observations in Grade 9 is fantastic. And (as a fellow control freak, still working on it) I have also come to truly believe that releasing the students to follow their passions is the answer to many literacy, numeracy and retention issues. I know many great HS teachers but also others who feel that the only differentiation that needs to take place is at course selection time when the kids basically stream themselves. Whereas in elementary school our classes are balanced. At our Gr 7-8 school for example, we make a huge effort to put the same numbers of level 1, 2, 3, 4, identified, behaviour issues, boys/girls, etc. in each class. So in any given Grade 8 class we have reading levels from Grade 2-10 with about 20-25% identified. I am so glad that someone invented the term differentiation, because I think that working within that model is the only way (as you point out) to make everybody happy :)including the teacher. Why not? PS Have you read The Element?

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