Breaks/Brakes in the Classroom

March 20, 2017

Lately, I've been thinking about how what happens in the classroom parallels what happens on my commute.

Creating a more student-centered classroom

One of the first things I realized is that I assumed that the teacher was the driver in the classroom. One of the goals of using Foldables and Notebook Foldables is to help students become drivers of their own learning. We aim for a gradual release of responsibility, where ultimately, students generate their own Foldables as they see the need. No single instructional strategy works for every student, so it is important that students use the ones that work for them when they can. 

If, like me, you've taken your share of road trips, you may have also found that some of the most enjoyable have been those with multiple drivers, so one person doesn't get overwhelmed with and exhausted from the responsibility. Similarly, we can share the "driver" role in the classroom, or at least start thinking about it. Using Foldables allows students to make connections between what they've just learned and other things they know or new things that you are preparing to present. That means that unlike driving a vehicle, sharing the driver role in the classroom doesn't have age restrictions--everything depends on whether the new drivers have the skill and ability to move things forward, at least for a portion of the journey.

Let's unpack that last statement a bit: what skills and abilities are required and how do we determine how long the new driver should spend behind the wheel?

Required Skills and Abilities

  • Understand how to use the Foldable in question; this can occur even if only one Foldable has been introduced. In that case, in Gradual Release of Responsibility language, this is a lesson that has moved from I Do It, to We Do It, and has now reached the You Do It stage. Students have practiced the initial skills (cutting and folding) and have practiced using it in multiple contexts.
  • Students also must be capable of independent work. They don't have to be able to do everything perfectly, but should be able to generate a simple plan and execute it.
  • Teachers/Instructors must be willing to relinquish some control.

For example, consider these givens:

  • I am preparing to present a new unit of study and I've used a 3-tab Foldable to highlight the three main concepts everyone in class will be expected to master; this is how I frame the unit
  • In previous units, we've used 3-4 Foldables in multiple ways, so everyone has had experience with them 
  • I'm ready to release some responsibility to my students!

I ask them to select an appropriate Foldable to use as a note-taker as we start our unit--they will need spaces for our three main concepts and I do a quick survey of what Foldables might be useful for that, emphasizing that they don't have to use the one I modeled. Having determined that they understand (and/or identifying those I might want to keep an eye on), they create their Foldables and we begin the unit. It's surprisingly hard for me to give up even this little bit of control, but I know that we're making a small step toward a classroom of independent learners.

Driving Shifts

Just as it is a better idea to ask an inexperienced driver to take a short driving shift on a vacation road trip, you may want to start releasing responsibility on smaller or very clearly defined tasks. In the example above, I've only asked them to select their own note-taker; I will observe how students use them, and will offer course corrections for anyone who is off-track, but I won't assign a grade on this task.  As I become more comfortable sharing responsibility in my classroom, I'll find other opportunities to help my students become more self-directed learners. Many teachers include student feedback into their Foldable routine--for example, when introducing a concept that incorporates the ideas of cause and effect, a teacher might ask what type of Foldable would help us understand the concept and take note of student suggestions. Even if they don't make their own Foldable, they are thinking about how to "chunk" the information. As students become more comfortable recognizing opportunities to use these powerful graphic organizers, teachers offer additional opportunities for them to take the lead, perhaps rotating responsibility between students to decide which Foldable will be used in a particular mini-lesson, or restricting student-generated Foldables to one component of the learning process (e.g., connections to other content areas) as a way to share the classroom driving.

Who drives in your classroom? Are you satisfied with what's happening? Can you identify other potential drivers with whom you can share some of the responsibility? Enjoy the ride!