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June 27, 2012

Let Freedom Ring as Students Choose Their Activities

Written By: Melinda Huff
X Let Students Choose Their Own Activities

Let Students Choose Their Own Activities

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.

Letting Students Choose Activities

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.


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  • Melinda
    July 3, 2012

    I teach in a pubic school and have three grade levels so our room is always very busy and very purposeful! We have pull-outs and can’t have our 90 min reading blocks interrupted but it does work!!! I definitely had to let go of being a control freak and it’s been beautiful 🙂

  • Sarah
    July 3, 2012

    Teaching 5/6 multi-age, flexible scheduling was a necessity. I told students when their guided reading and math groups would meet with me during the day, but then they scheduled other activities and wrote their own schedule. Students really developed as learners as they had to decide when were good times for them to work on certain things: When did they concentrate on content-area reading best, when was a good time to relax with a review game, when did they do their most creative writing, etc.? Students who were pulled out for special services (resource room, ELL, gifted, speech) planned those into their schedules. It involves a shift in thinking and planning, however, away from thinking that you, as the teacher, have to stand at the front of the room and “teach” them everything and moving more toward a guide who moves around the classroom meeting each child’s individual need at the time. I’m now teaching 4-6 language arts and use workshop models that allow my students to continue being flexible.

  • Julie P.
    June 27, 2012

    I’d love to teach like this but am stuck to a schedule due to the number of students that are pulled out.

  • Lorie
    June 27, 2012

    Great idea but won’t work at my school. We aren’t allowed this freedom. Our schedules are made by the adminstration and we must stick to them. If we make a change even for one day we must have that change approved. All of this due to making teachers accountable in Florida.

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