Let Freedom Ring by Melinda Huff
One of the best feelings in the world is being understood and not being forced to do something that I don’t want to do. Please know that there are things that I know that I HAVE to do, not necessarily want to do. I know that school isn’t a place where you can choose the concepts that you need to learn but it should be a place where we are letting students feel like they are important enough to be considered a decision-maker and not just one of the many kids who sit in your room.
So why is it that we feel like everybody needs to be doing the same thing at the same time? Some rooms are filled with centers that are based on rotations but even that is a bit forced. If my boss filled my day, everyday, with a timeline of what I was to do and with whom, I would not be a very happy camper. My boss, luckily, realizes that I’m capable of making my own decisions and managing my time. Why shouldn’t she? I have never given her a reason not to. Except that one time and she was pretty gracious when I didn’t meet my deadline and even gave me helpful suggestions on how to do something even better.
Children are capable of making their own decisions and managing their time, as well. They only need to be given the opportunity to do it! I think that you will be pleasantly surprised when you allow your class to choose what they want to do and when. I’m not saying that you can’t give your big lesson on fractions but instead of saying you do Social Studies from 11:00-12:00 and Math from 12:00 until 1:00, why not say that you will be learning fractions first thing in the morning and then they will have from 9:00-11:00 to work on the following things. Place several items on the board (including follow-up work from the lesson you just gave and other things that you know that they can manage independently) or give them a list of work that they need to have done that day, centers included, but let them choose the order that they do it in. Maybe I want to work on math and you want to work on language while another student is working on science. Does it really matter if I didn’t want to work on my science assignment first? Isn’t it only important that I get it finished? At the end of the two hours, you can teach another lesson and give another span of time after that to work on other assignments.
Just like my boss, your boss may say that they need the following reports, grades, etc. at a specific time. Just like my students, your students may feel empowered by having someone giving them a voice in their learning. Decision-making is not something that happens overnight. You may have some students who have a really hard time knowing where to start. Part of this process is teaching the life skill of accomplishing a list of tasks. It may seem overwhelming at first but we do one thing at a time until the list, growing smaller and smaller, becomes crossed off completely. Making a choice is hard for a lot of students but a lot of the problem lies with not ever giving them the chance do what they want to accomplish first.
About the Author
Melinda Huff has been teaching for eight years in Indiana, four in traditional settings and four in a public, Montessori school. In 2003, she graduated from IU South Bend with a BS in Elementary Education and is currently completing her certification in Montessori education. Her multi-age classroom, consists of first, second and third-grade.