In most classrooms, the writing of the day plans is a job done exclusively by the teacher. Each afternoon, after the students leave, teachers around the world sit at their desk and decide what their students should learn the next day and how their students are going to learn it.
In my opinion, handing over the writing of the day plants to our students is one of the best ways we as teachers can tap into student voice, student choice, student agency, student autonomy and student ownership of learning.
Here is how I envision it happening:
- Let them in behind the scenes – if you are lucky enough to work at a school where students are trusted to choose what they want to learn about and when, you have the luxury of ignoring this first step! For the majority of us though, we have standardized curricula, collaboratively created units of inquiry and reporting timelines to consider. Why consider them alone? Invite students to inquire into their curriculum and what the powers that be have decided they should be able to know and do by the end of the grade. Share with them the learning outcomes that have been pre-decided for a specific unit. Be transparent about what knowledge and skills will need to be reported on and by when.
- Discuss ‘learning’ – If students are going to be making choices about what they learn, when they learn and how they learn, it is probably a good idea to help them make informed decisions. Conduct a class inquiry into learning. Look at the different ways human learn. Discuss the different things humans learn about and learn to do. Brainstorm lists of approaches to learning that can be posted and referred to somewhere in the classroom.
- Come up with shared expectations – As a class, decide what is reasonable when planning a day. Should reading, writing, listening and speaking appear everyday? What about math? Should there be a minimum time spent on each? How will breaks work? Can you make changes to your plan throughout the day? Is play a respected part of the day?
- Share your template – At the end of every day, carve out a chunk of time where students can plan their own upcoming day. For students who prefer paper, make a copy of your empty day plan (with specialist classes already blocked out) and for students who prefer to work electronically, push out an excel version or Google Sheet.
- Offer optional workshops – Figure out the needs of your class and in response to those needs, offer optional workshops and collaborative inquiries. Post the purpose, content and time of the workshops and inquiries when students are planning their day so students who are interested in participating can account for the workshops on their day plans.
- Offer optional conference times – When you are not offering optional workshops and inquiries, make yourself available for individual conferences. Conferences could be requested for a number of reasons – for reading, writing, math, inquiry guidance, personal reasons or even to play together! Post the times when you will be available for conferences when students are planning their day so they can make a note of when they would like to reach out to you.
- Provide support – For the first few times that students are creating their own day plans, offer guidance. Perhaps invite any students looking for help to participate in a shared approach. Then, with the students who self-select for assistance, go through the day plan block by block and help them plan what they are going to, how they are going to do it – and most importantly why they are going to do it.
- Provide feedback – Take the time you would have spent writing your day plans, and invest that time in providing feedback for your students’ day plans. Either on the shared document or the paper copy, jot down questions that will help students clarify and improve their own plans. An hour is a long time to write, have you planned for a break? I noticed you have not built anytime for independent reading, why is that? You have noted that you want to practice your times tables, how do you plan on doing that?
- Reflect – build in time and model the value of reflecting on day plans each and every day. Help students think about what went well, what they enjoyed, along with what did not go well and perhaps why that is. Encourage risk-taking, by guiding students to try something different or check out how a classmate structured their day of learning.
- Back off – If you are going to say you trust your students to know what they want and need to learn about and how best to go about it, then you need to actually trust them. You can offer guidance, advice, probing questions… but at the end of the day you have to respect their decisions and truly believe that they know what is best for themselves.
I’m imaging a classroom where some students are reading, some students are writing, some are practicing math, some are playing games, some are talking to one another, some are painting or building, some are attending a optional teacher-led workshop… but all are learning. Learning in their own way, at their own pace, and on their own schedule. Doesn’t it sound wonderful?
I have never tried this before, but I plan to this year as I head back into the classroom! As always, I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions about this idea!
How can I improve this plan?
What obstacles might I encounter?
How do you involve your students in planning the day?
This is wonderful. Again, I’m so looking forward to learning from your experiences this year!
Here are a few questions that came to mind as I read:
Do you also plan to block out times for whole group instruction, once the class decides how much time should be dedicated to different areas? ie, a provocation, a math lesson, etc?
What role will assessments play in the broad scheme of things (obviously, I’m sure you’ll gain TONS of insights through giving feedback on their daily plans, but what about summatives, quizzes, etc)?
Would you recommend this much autonomy right off the bat for, say, a group of 5th graders that have never been accustomed to much choice/voice in their learning? (I am very fond of Literacy Daily 5/Math Daily 3 choices, but that doesn’t consist of them determining an entire school day: http://honorsgradu.com/10-tips-for-transitioning-to-daily-5-daily-3/)
That’s it for now, but there will probably be more…
Thank you SO much for your questions… keep ’em coming! They help me consider things and think through my plan more!:)
1. Whole group lessons – I think as much as possible I will try avoid mandatory whole group lessons. I think any time I mandate students to learn something I am taking away their ownership over their own learning and I am giving the message that I know what they need, more than they know what they need. I hope that I can build the type of classroom community where students are in tune with their strengths and areas for growth so they can self-select a workshop or inquiry that they would benefit from instead of me choosing their choice for them.
2. Assessment – Similarly with summatives, I would like to have students have ownership over this as much as possible. My dream would be to avoid any teacher-created quizzes and summatives, and instead focus on asking the questions “what would you like to share that you have learned” “who do you want to share it with” and “how do you want to share it”. Again, I hope to empower students to be able to become in tune with what they know, how they know they know it and what they still need to learn/practice. I haven’t thought it out fully yet, but I would like to create a routine with my students where each week students document how they have shown different curricular standards, and then conference with me so I can share my perspective as well. Once a plan is more fully developed, I will write a post about it!
3. Autonomy – I don’t know what I recommend yet, because I have never done anything like this. I am going to try going all in this year and starting off the year with voice, choice, agency and autonomy. I’ll reflect on how that approach goes and get back to you. 🙂
Please keep the questions, feedback and suggestions coming! I’m so thankful to have such a supportive and challenging PLN. 🙂
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Awesome. I have dreamed of this kind of student empowerment, too, and I can’t wait to hear about the “real” details of how it all unfolds throughout the year so I can learn and implement when I return to the classroom, too! Thanks, Taryn! Hope you are enjoying your summer!
I am very interested in this as I am making a big shift myself this year into student ownership of the classroom and their learning in it. I am at a year round school that began last week. In an effort to kick the year off with student ownership (and some inspiration from a wonderful teacher on twitter) my class worked together on the first day of school to set up the classroom as opposed to setting up for the beginning of school myself. I was quite nervous and in the end I could not be more inspired to continue this practice. The students set it up in ways I would not have and were very passionate about what they did. The fact that it was nothing like what I would have done showed me how important it is that I am taking a step in this direction.
Your post is right in line with what I intend to continue throughout the year. I think students planning lessons is a great way for students to take ownership of not just how they learn but what they learn. Having students create their own roadmap to learning and what they need to know and want to know. I look forward to following your journey and trying these ideas as well!
Thanks for sharing your positive experience letting students set up the classroom. I’m so happy to connect with a fellow educator who will also be focusing on student ownership. What is your Twitter and do you blog? I’d love to see and follow your journey as well. 🙂
I find this idea very ambitious. Some concerns that I have are time and accountability. I also wondered about whole group instruction and assessment, which Mary already asked about. In an ideal classroom this would work wonderfully, but when I think about what kinds of students typically make up a classroom, I panic. Every year you have the naturally motivated students, the students who excel in one area and struggle/avoid others, the constantly off task students, the slow to work and move students, etc. As the teacher, how do you divide your time within a classroom with many different needs and check/give feedback on progress? How are you available for questions? How do you create an atmosphere where everyone is free to learn? Some students like it quiet, some want to talk everything out, etc. Since some students like electronics and some paper and pencil, are there many different avenues that you need to keep up with to check their progress? With everyone creating their own schedules, how do you make sure X isn’t spending all their time on math and nothing else? How do you keep up with time constraints, some units are 6 weeks, some stand alone math is 8 weeks, etc?
“Avoiding mandatory whole group lessons”…why? Don’t we gleam information from others in whole group instruction time? I also found as a teacher and a student, the most meaningful discussions happened as a class versus smaller groups.
Last thought/question- how is this approach different than Montessori learning?
I hope you are doing something exciting this summer!
This is why I love working with you April! You always challenge me and give me so much to think about. You make me better 🙂
Here are my thoughts and perspectives concerning your concerns:
1. “Every year you have the naturally motivated students, the students who excel in one area and struggle/avoid others, the constantly off task students, the slow to work and move students, etc.” I think often times we see students’ responses (naturally motived/unmotivated, off task, slow to work etc.) to situations and decisions that we create and control. Are students not naturally motivated, or perhaps not motivated to learn what has been chosen for them at the time? If they are off task… who chose the task? If they are slow to work and slow to move… who decided the speed? The more I reflect on my own observations of typical student classroom behaviour, the more I realize it was in response to situations I as a teacher (and we as a system) create for students where the what, when, how and where of learning are chosen for them. I am motivated this year to create a learning environment where students are in the driver’s seat so anything they learn about will come from their own motivation and if they are off task they can choose to take a break, or perhaps reflect on what being off task may signify about their choice and if they need to choose a different activity, and if they are slow that’s okay – because I want them to be free to learn at their own pace. “Sometimes if we only focus on our own context we miss a broader and richer set of evidence that shows how capable young people are. Much of the research done around children takes place in schools or supports the schooling mentality, and thus we conclude this is how children are. I have come to believe this is not how children are, but how oppressed children are – which is very different. Given the chance and given the respect, children can reach heights beyond all of our beliefs and expectations” (Ricci, 2010).
2. As the teacher, how do you divide your time within a classroom with many different needs and check/give feedback on progress? How are you available for questions? My plan for dividing my time will be five-fold: 1.) Leading optional classroom meetings to discuss current events, class and school events, class and school problems for any student who wish to attend and participate in discussions. 2.) Offering optional read alouds – this year I want to create a more language rich environment so I plan to read to my students every day. I will offer a read aloud (story,poem, drama, novel etc.) and any students who are interested may attend. 3.) Offering optional workshops – each day based on curriculum standards, student requests and needs that I have noticed I will offer a range of workshops on reading, writing, math and UOI where students can identify if it would be beneficial for them to attend. 4.) Offering optional inquiries – workshops will be focused more on skill development (reading strategies, writing techniques, math tricks etc.) but I also want to offer typical PYP inquiries – like I would have done before – but this time allow student to choose whether or not they want to participate. 5. Offering optional conferences – the biggest part of my day, I will be available for students to sign up for conferences. Students can request to meet with me for help reading, writing, math, UOI concepts… and even just to read together, play together or talk together. Finally, each Thursday I plan to follow the Google 20% model and allow students complete Free Learning, where unlike Sunday through Thursday, they can learn about whatever they want. During Free Learning Thursday, I plan to conference with each student on a rolling basis. One week we can sit down and look at our class created reading rubric for that reporting period and share each of our perspective, the following week discuss the writing rubric, then the week after that math, then UOI. Each week I hope to have enough time for a quick conference with each student where they can openly and honestly share their perspective of how they are doing and I can do the same.
3. How do you create an atmosphere where everyone is free to learn? Some students like it quiet, some want to talk everything out, etc. This is something I don’t have an answer for yet… but I plan to address it with my students. I am hoping to take more of a democratic approach this year where we deal with all issues and problems collectively and come up with solutions together. So if a student notices they are unable to learn for a certain reason they can bring the issue to a classroom meeting and we can resolve it as a community.
4. Since some students like electronics and some paper and pencil, are there many different avenues that you need to keep up with to check their progress? With everyone creating their own schedules, how do you make sure X isn’t spending all their time on math and nothing else? This year I hope to truly empower students to have ownership over their own learning, which means they will be responsible for knowing what they need, how they can get what they need, and eventually show what they have learned and accomplished. In the past I have misguidedly tried to choose, control and manage everyone’s everything and it was not only exhausting, but the more I found I owned their learning the less I found they owned their own learning. So if some are using paper and pencil and others are using electronics, that is their business, as they will be primarily responsible for tracking and reporting their progress. As far as how they choose to spend their time, I plan to guide, question and offer advice, but at the end of the day I will respect and trust that their choice. “A child may not know what he may need to know in ten years, but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn something else that we think is more important, the chances are the he won’t learn it, or will learn very little of it, that we will soon forget most of what he learned and what is worst of all, will before long lose most of his appetite for learning anything” (Holt, 1995).
5. How do you keep up with time constraints, some units are 6 weeks, some stand alone math is 8 weeks, etc? Let’s discuss this in person 😉
6. “Avoiding mandatory whole group lessons”…why? Don’t we gleam information from others in whole group instruction time? I also found as a teacher and a student, the most meaningful discussions happened as a class versus smaller groups. Great question! Firstly, I think mandatory whole class lessons run the risk of not meeting someone’s needs (let alone interests). What are the odd that one lesson/workshop/inquiry perfectly matches 24 students needs and interests? I think any time a lesson is mandated there are probably students who already know what we are trying to get them to know or need to know some other things first before they can know this. I also think anytime we make anything mandatory we are choosing their choice for them, and taking away a little piece of their ownership over their own learning. I absolutely agree that we learn from others when large groups are together, but I believe it should only be large groups where everyone who is there is interested in being there. If that means 2 students, great. If that means the whole class, great. If that means the whole class, except one student, great. ” when people, even very little kids, are pursuing activities of their own volition, with their own motivation, they tend to them much better and more honestly than if they are being forced” (Hern, 2010). As much as possible I want to avoid any ‘forced’ learning.
7. Last thought/question- how is this approach different than Montessori learning? It isn’t. And it is. This summer I have been in a course called Alternative Schooling and throughout my readings and class conversations I become exposed to so many alternative ways to structure learning. So yes, I have taken principles from Montessori, but also from Reggio Emilia, and Democratic schools, and an unschooling approach and alternative schools like Summerhill, Windsor House School and Sudbury Valley schools. I think there are lots of great models out there, but I am more a buffet-style person and I like to critically evaluate each model and identify the common underlying principles that make those places such effective, loved and humane places of learning – so for this year I have identified three main principles that I want to borrow from not only Montessori schools, but also many others, the principles of democracy, freedom and community.
7. I hope you are doing something exciting this summer! Don’t you know me well enough yet to know this is the exciting something I’m doing this summer! 😉
Can’t wait to keep learning with you this year!
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