Being in a science classroom for a majority of my career, it was hard for me to let go some of the control. From early on in my teaching career, I learned from my colleagues how to be in FRONT of a classroom. Put a question on the board to get them focused. While the students are pondering this carefully crafted question, I should set up my lesson for the day and prepare to blow their mind with a lecture. It was my choice on what was being communicated in class that day. Finish up with 5 minutes of questions, and give a set of questions or reading assignment to reinforce what was taught that day. My lesson went pretty well, so if the students were attentive, they should have learned something.
Students are different now, not only because of their exposure to a world of experiences and information courtesy of technology, but these students see the world differently. Careers have changed, attitudes have changed, and hopefully, as a teacher, I have changed with them. My brother told me about Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. I’m halfway through it, and it has changed the way I teach. Pink writes about motivation and how to use it to become better at work and life. He claims the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the need to direct our own lives. It is a need to learn new things and create. I cannot help but think of my own middle schools students and what motivates, and what doesn’t motivate them.
In the classroom, it has been my goal to create a student-centric classroom. I gave up the lecture and turned it into student lead group breakouts, where students delve into the topic we are studying then collaborate their results. Students choose their vehicle for learning based on their individual learning styles.
Learning about the geological time scale? You can choose to CREATE a board game, a travel brochure, or a PowerPoint. You can give a talk if you’d like. You want to create a model? That’s fine too. Having the students directing their own lives, as Pink suggested, has created a wonderful classroom environment. When I thought that giving up that control of my class would create chaos, I have now realized that it did the exact opposite. Students are satisfied with what and HOW they are learning. As far as middle schoolers go, students just want to feel successful and be part of the process. As a teacher, that is all I ever wanted. By my changing the pronouns in my teaching attitude from “me” to “you”, students have become the drivers in their own learning, instead of passengers on the bus of old school education.