Friday, February 5, 2010

I have a dream...

...or maybe I should call it a vision. It begins with something real, a student making a seating chart for the class he's in.

Because he was fed up with sitting by a kid who'd rather steal pencils and self-inflict rubber band wounds onto his arms than do any semblance of work, he asked me earlier this week if he could make a new seating chart for the class. I abhor making seating charts, so I gladly agreed--and thus it was that today, we have a new 4th period seating chart, made by a 4th period student with only minor tweaks by me.

Of course, now other kids want to make seating charts. I already have a guy in 6th period trying to figure out how he can design it so that he sits by his friends but not so many of them that I won't approve the ultimate configuration (I already had to veto a few of his first choices, but he's still working at it:) It also means that students--at least in 4th period and, pretty soon, 6th--can no longer complain to me about seats they're unhappy with. When I heard the inevitable grumbles today about seats in the front or away from friends, I could just tell people that if they didn't like it, all they had to do was submit a new version of the seating chart. If it was reasonable, we'd try their version out next.

I didn't mean for this to be the case, but I realized that by giving my responsibility here away, I made students accountable for a chunk of their language arts world. If they don't like where they sit, they can do something about it--make a new seating chart that is reasonable enough that I will approve it. Quite by accident, I hit upon the solution to complaints: if students are the ones responsible for the way things are run in our classroom, all they have to do if they don't like something is try to get others to agree to change it. When you think about it, it's kind of the model for the real world, right? Things aren't going to change unless you step up and try to make them better.

So my dream, the dream that begins with a seating chart, is a classroom where students are making all those kinds of decisions. My dream is a democratically-run classroom where kids are trusted to try new things, decide for themselves what's best, given the support network to fail and learn from their mistakes, and always pushed to think about what's best for the community. My dream is a classroom where kids problem-solve with common goals in mind--a classroom where I facilitate and tweak, but where the kiddos do the work.

I'm not saying that I'd just let kids run loose and do whatever the hell they want. I'm the teacher; of course I'd be directing, pushing, prodding. But given parameters and an opportunity to have a say in things that matter, I think that kiddos will rise to the expectations I set. They want to be doing real things, things that have an impact, things that seem to matter to their world.

I'm not sure how to make it work quite yet. The seating chart is a start, but it's only a very small example--AND, an example I hit upon quite by accident. I know this dream requires giving up a lot of my own responsibility and trusting that my kiddos will be able to step up and take it over. And I know I'll figure it out as I go. But I'm starting to wonder if this is the only way that I'm going to feel good about teaching. I want to help make kids better, more thoughtful people, not just really good school machines. In my dream, I can do that.


James Ofsink said...

Sounds like a great idea. I imagine there would have to be some amount of tweaking to find the right level of responsibility with respect to the maturity of the specific kids. I think that you're right on that a system like this would better prepare them for a world in which they will have the onus to change the things that they don't like.

aimee said...

I love it! There may be other ideas waiting for you in the book...:)