“How do you spell _________?”
“What resources could you use to decide?”
“My pencil broke.”
“Could you use your resources to be a problem-solver?”
“I don’t get what we’re supposed to do at this point in our writing.”
“I bet you could use your resources to figure that one out.”
This was one of my go-to phrases with my students. But it wasn’t one of those silver bullet, use-this-and-the-kids-will-do-more-themselves kind of phrase. It took quite a bit of behind-the-scenes effort.
For one thing, there was a lot of ongoing dialogue behind it.
We would discuss what it meant to be a problem-solver. I would always tell my students, “You may solve your problems in any way that doesn’t cause problems for you or anyone else.” For some, it took months before I could fully convince them that I meant it — for instance, that they could, in fact, use the bathroom without asking as long as they weren’t causing problems.
I would also continually spotlight when students would solve their problems in particularly creative ways, and would praise students for using resources effectively.
For another, I worked to set up a resource-rich environment that students felt comfortable using freely.
Whenever I gave any verbal instructions, I also wrote them on the board so they had that reference. Whenever we worked to uncover new writing or math tools, we wrote our strategies on anchor charts and then posted them as resources to check on. Whenever I brought in new supplies, I told my students about them and asked where would be the most effective storage place.
And perhaps most importantly, I worked to listen to student voice.
They were always full of remarkable ideas for using and creating resources I hadn’t thought of. The easy part of listening to student voice was keeping a suggestion box that we would review during weekly class meetings. The hard part was letting go to truly honor that voice by allowing sometimes imperfect or messy ideas to move forward.
After all, if “use your resources” meant they were only permitted to use my resources, or to solve problems within my set of solutions, I wasn’t actually cultivating an environment of student ownership. Real autonomy comes when those in charge don’t pretend they have all the answers.
I was certainly an imperfect executor of this ideal, but I’m enjoying the way I can use my current resources to learn more from my PLN to return to the classroom with a greater commitment to student voice, choice, and ownership.
featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto