Children love playing shadow tag, catching and stepping on each other’s shadows. We teachers need to keep an eye on our shadows too ... metaphorically speaking, that is. We’re big in children’s eyes, and we have a lot of power over how they spend their day. If we slip into taking over their explorations and answering our own questions, we subtly let children know that their ideas and interests aren’t as important as ours. But if we want our children to develop independence and feel engaged in our classroom, then we have to show we value their ideas and support their independence.

So, when you feel the impulse to be “the star of the show,” try a few of these tips to avoid overshadowing students.

Look for ways to include student ideas

This can be a challenge when you've got a fixed curriculum you have to cover, but there are always ways to incorporate students’ ideas. For example, if you’re helping children master fraction/decimal conversion in time for upcoming state tests and a student mentions a trick his mother told him about how to estimate results, ask him to share with the class and incorporate the trick into practice problems.

Provide opportunities to help

Children of all ages like to take on special roles in the classroom, whether it’s being the line leader, reviewing a peer’s story, or leading a small group discussion. Having students take on these genuine responsibilities can help you be available in other ways and allows them to engage more deeply in activities.

Follow children’s leads and go with the flow of their interests

Some children might want to learn more about dinosaurs, others might want to explore the garden, and you might want to teach them about the life cycle of butterflies. Set up different centers, provide choices, and switch up your plans (they might want to learn about butterflies tomorrow). You’ll find children are more interested and involved if you teach what they want to learn. In older classrooms, you might allow students to choose their groups, the topic they want to write about, or which problem set to solve.

What have you done in the classroom to encourage student independence and engagement?

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in Feburary 2014, but has since been updated to keep the content accurate and engaging.

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