School began one month ago. This was the start of my 25th year of school. And still I am surprised by the students. Really I am not so surprised by the students but by their behavior. You see, by fifth grade, my students have already learned how to play the game. Sit as quietly as possible, don't leave your seat unless you raise your hand and ask permission, do not call out in class, and never, never ask a classmate for answers.
So they come into our classroom and find things are a bit different. Can't sit still? Then stand up. But move to the back so you don't block anyone. Need to get a drink? Wash your hands? Go to the bathroom? Take a break? Then do so. But be sure you are not disrupting other classmates in the process. Have something important to add to the conversation? Go right ahead. But be respectful and don't talk over anyone else. Need help and your table mate seems to know what he is doing? Then ask for help. Check your answers with his. Ask him how he got his answers so you can do it yourself next time.
The two most important rules we teach in our class are to have respect for others and be an active learner, doing whatever you need to do to accomplish that task. This is unusual for children. Not so much the respect part but respect takes on a whole new meaning when you are making so many decisions. You see, when the teacher says the rules are to sit quietly and respect him/her, then respect is easy. You sit quietly and don't speak unless asked to.
But when you are responsible for your own learning, then respect changes. Maybe you need to come closer to the front of the room during a presentation so you don't get distracted. You need to be sure you do so without blocking anyone else or without making a commotion moving chairs. Maybe you need a fidget toy so you can concentrate better while touching an object. Get up quietly and grab a Koosh ball. Just don't toss it up and down or the student next to you gets too distracted. Maybe you need to take notes. Don't wait for the teacher to tell you to do so. Grab paper or your Post-Its and start writing. Or grab a laptop and start typing. But don't be distracting in the process.
By December, by November, by October even, our students have learned this. They move about freely, work well together, have conversations with each other, and are respectful - most of the time - of each other. But each September, I have to be reminded that they come to us from classrooms that don't run this way. Decisions are not made by students. Rules are not so easy to follow. And, as much as they love their teachers, their classes, their school, the learning is different here. It takes some getting used to. After all, it's hard to learn to be a learner. And that's what our classroom is all about.
'"It is our choices. . . that+show+what+we+are,++far+more+than+our+abilities."'