How do I put students in charge of thinking in my classroom?

I spent the month of February in Oregon giving a series of workshops across the state.  But I didn’t do all the talking. I had many chances to listen to students, teachers, and administrators in a variety of settings – focus groups,  planning sessions and classrooms walk-throughs.

Img_0262One question posed by a teacher captured a central challenge to education in the 21st century – “How do I put students in charge of thinking in my classroom?”

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Accountability is here to stay. There’s no going back to the “bell curve” of academic winners and losers. Life-long learning dictates that children will need to become self-directed learners. But too many teachers feel compelled to rush through course material to cover a multitude of benchmarks and standards. For them, the demands of time and testing, limit their opportunities to teach to greater depth.

My workshops attempt to point a way out of this dilemma. We take the approach that instruction must be organized to help students gradually take responsibility for their learning. We focus on idea that learning is relevant to students when the student:

  • Understands how the information or skill has some application in their life.
  • Has an opportunity to try their own learning approaches, rather than just learn the facts.
  • Is not just learning content and skills, but is learning how they learn.

Teachers need support to make the transition to this style of instruction. Administrators  need to reinforce the idea that teaching for greater depth beats teaching to the test. The curricula needs to be compacted to provide more time for students to explore their own approaches. Staff development and curriculum resources need to target more rigorous and relevant instructional models.  Teachers should be given opportunities for faculty collegial interaction and classroom walk-throughs to showcase best practices.

These initiatives  come with a reciprocal accountability. Administrators support teachers to foster greater rigor and relevance in the classroom. In return, they can expect to see those strategies being utilized when they visit the classroom. 

I’m encouraged by the bright students and dedicated educators  I met in Oregon – working together to redefine the 21st century classroom.  As one teacher commented, “I realize that all children are capable of higher-level thinking. We need to continue teaching kids to think for themselves, teach each other, get involved… their futures depend on it.”

2 Replies to “How do I put students in charge of thinking in my classroom?”

  1. I am a teacher in a district that has just recently jumped on board with Model Schools ideas and rigor and relevance. I was moved from third grade to fourth and am desperate for help. Our school doesn’t have all technology in the classrooms to do all these amazing ideas on the web. I am expected to pull quadrant D lessons out of thin air without having the resources to implement the activities. I need some direction with where to go to help get some ideas to teach my fourth grade class to meet these quadrant D lessons that are required. Can you please help?

    1. Dear “T-I-N,”

      Sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been on the road … here’s something before I head back out tomorrow.

      I think the place to start is to realize that not every lesson / every day will be in quadrant D. If your admin team thinks that, then tell them you would like to see them model that approach with 100% of faculty meetings run in quadrant D. I think the four quadrants should be used as reference points to help us think more thoughtfully about how to employ more student directed elements and teach to higher levels of thinking in our lessons.

      Enough philosophy – here’s some practical ideas:
      1. To move lessons to more student centered approach (B and D) here’s a post that should help. The Four Negotiables of Student Centered Learning

      2. Adding a reflection to most any lesson will transform it to a quad D lesson. The ICLE approach to relevance uses application to life – I see that as one element of relevance, but also see learning as more relevant when students make choices (See #1 above) and reflect on what happened. Here’s a post to help students with reflective prompts – The Reflective Student

      3. Here are some sample lessons in pdf format that you can adapt to specific content. 18 Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers – Defining, Summarizing and Comparing

      I hope this helps get you started.

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