Stay Silent on the 1st Day of School: Create a Student-Centered Classroom

With the start of the new year I’ve committed to becoming a more reflective teacher by blogging at least once a month. Here’s my first post of the year which coincided with the start of a new semester at my high school.

NOTE: I’m well aware that this activity might not work for teachers of all grade levels or settings but I wanted to share my experience in case it is useful to you.

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Whether you’ve long admired John Dewey or you’re trying to live up to Danielson’s definition of a highly effective teacher, many teachers, myself included, are working to build a more student-centered class. Here is one way you can start the journey from the moment your students walk into your class on the first day of school.

Be prepared to push yourself and your students out of their comfort zones by avoiding all the things we normally do at the beginning of the semester: Don’t stand in front of the class, Don’t review rules, Don’t lead the class through a series of activities.

In fact, do nothing.

Instead, let students lead the class, make a plan and guide their classmates. Set the tone from the very first day that students will be at the center of the classroom experience.

Before students walk into class have the following instructions projected on the screen:

Welcome to Mr. Chokshi’s class!

I’m conducting a social experiment to see what students can do on their own.

  1. Please take your Chromebook according to the list on top of the cart and your seat according to the chart at the front of the room.
  2. By the end of period you should:
    1. Know the names and a unique fact of everyone in your group
    2. Create ONE class Google Slides presentation introducing your partner:
      1. One thing your partner is proud of (e.g. skill, character trait, etc.)
      2. A major challenge they have overcome (e.g. family, socially, academically, etc.)
      3. Greatest academic strength
      4. Greatest academic challenge
    3. Present your partner to the class
    4. Return your chromebook to the correct location
  3. If time remains, learn the names & unique fact about another group. You will be expected to know everyone’s name and something about them by the end of the week!

Then, as students file in, greet them but give no instructions. When the bell rings to mark the start of class, say nothing. I find it helpful to take a seat on the side of room so they know you won’t be guiding them.

While students struggle with finding their seat & Chromebooks, creating a shared presentation, and figuring out how to connect their computer to the projector it’s absolutely critical that you remain silent. Not a word. If your students know you’ll swoop in and save them whenever they face a challenge they won’t become accustomed to seeing their peers as their first resource.

Other than creating the norm for student centered learning, such an approach helps you learn within the first moments of the school year which students enjoy leading the class and which students prefer to play a more supportive role.

Doing this activity on the first day of school does require a little more prep work such as having a roster and seating chart prepared in advance; however, most teachers have these ready before the first day of school anyways. The most difficult preparation is mental: realizing that we’re not the most important person in room and that the class can function without us leading them.

Investing time to create a student centered class pays dividends throughout the year as students follow instructions with minimal guidance from you, ask their classmates for help first and, above all, direct their own learning.

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