The Third ‘R’ of an effective learning environment relates to developing students’ sense of responsibility for their learning and classroom environment.
To effectively manage this long-term process, graduate teachers need to clarify their position in, and plans for their classroom learning environment. My personal approach has been influenced by my teaching philosophy and relief teaching experience in TRIBES schools.
I hope to create a classroom learning community where I facilitate, rather than dictate, the learning process. I want to develop my students’ skills for cooperation and higher-order thinking; enabling them to become active, informed and multi-literate learners. This means I will be ultimately positioning myself as a co-learner in the classroom community, using students’ questions, skills, and talents to drive the learning process, within the boundaries of the set curriculum. For this to work, I will need to develop the 'Third ‘R’.
As a relief teacher, I have observed and researched various avenues for developing this in the classroom, with each strategy building on the last.
1) Developing Classroom Rules with Students
While classroom rules are an essential feature of virtually every classroom; to be truly effective, students need to be given the opportunity to “own” their class rules by negotiating them with their teacher.
This sense of ownership ensures students share the responsibility for the effective running of the learning environment.
2) Differentiating & negotiating curriculum, themes, and learning experiences to reflect students’ interests, talents and expertise
With the pressures of an overcrowded curriculum, the need to meet system priorities (e.g. NAPLAN), and rigorous assessment and reporting demands, it is often difficult to negotiate core curriculum content with students.
What we can do; however, is differentiate the curriculum to reflect students’ interests, special talents, multiple intelligences, skills, and community resources. This can be achieved through Term themes (eg. Colonial Australia, Under the Sea, The Solar System); open-ended learning tasks (e.g inquiry projects); use of Blooming SMART matrixes; teaching higher-order thinking skills; and weaving students’ questions through unit learning experiences.
A step up from this might involve students negotiating assessment criteria and presentation mediums. Developing shared rubrics, and encouraging students’ to use different technologies/learning products (eg. PhotoStory, PPT, short movie, podcast) to share their learning, are powerful ways to involve students in the learning process.
If a student has a special skill (eg. film-making), why not encourage them to use it in class – to share their learning and to teach others? Teachers DON’T have to be technological experts – use your more knowledgeable students’ as “peer teachers” instead.
The move to negotiating curriculum requires a shift in thinking on behalf of both the students and the teacher. Our students tend to be used to being passive receivers of information, and may lack the necessary skills and understandings to actively participate in their learning. Therefore, teachers need to explicitly teach the necessary social and cooperative skills prior to negotiating curriculum with their students. Also, teachers need to adjust to their new role and status in the classroom, moving away from being the ‘font of all knowledge’ towards being a “life-long learner”.
This is NOT an easy process, requiring extensive professional research and reflection, but implemented effectively, the rewards are life-long.
Excellent Resources – Curriculum Differentiation:
Thinking Curriculum (Kurwongbah State School, QLD)
3) Explicitly teaching social or “working together” skills, which underpin collaborative learning
I have now taught in 21 schools in the Perth (Western Australia) metropolitan area, and I have only seen the explicit teaching of social skills in three, upper primary classrooms.
In our society, there is an incredible need to teach social skills as part of the everyday curriculum. By doing so, we are not only helping those children with special needs, but all our mainstream students as well. As the global economy increasingly requires collaborative, active learners & knowledge workers, this has become a pressing learning priority.
Social, or interpersonal skills can be effectively integrated across the curriculum (under the Listening / Speaking strands of the new Australian Curriculum), and reinforced across a range of learning activities.
Drawing upon my reading in this area, I would suggest focussing on one social skill each week; spending perhaps 30-40 minutes/week explicitly exploring what the skill looks/sounds/feels like, role-playing social situations, and incidentally reinforcing its’ use across the curriculum.
For some excellent social skills teaching resources, and professional learning materials, I highly recommend a visit to these sites:
4) Develop a classroom community based on the four TRIBES agreements
While I have seen the enormously positive impacts of the TRIBES approach in some extremely challenging schools, my professional knowledge or training in its application is minimal at present.
I will seek to develop my understandings in this area over the coming months, and eventually plan to undertake formal TRIBES training. I will update this post then.
In the meantime, I would recommend visiting these sites for further information:
TRIBES Official Site: www.tribes.com