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.
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.
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.
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.
In construction, a scaffold is a temporary structure used by workers to access heights and areas that are hard to get to. This is exactly what educators are doing when they scaffold for students. A student is having a hard time reaching a new height—understanding a concept, answering a question, or completing an activity—and the teacher provides just enough support to allow the student to succeed.
You’ve heard it said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I would propose this addition: “Except in teaching!” Of course, we know the first moments of the first day of school are critical to establishing a tone for the year ahead, and we put a lot of energy into those first moments. It’s always fun to prepare our classrooms for the new school year because we are full of renewed hopes and dreams.
We’ve all had kids in the classroom who push limits, can’t manage their feelings, constantly demand attention. Believe it or not, they are sending you a message. When kids misbehave, they are operating based on mistaken learning. With time, patience, and planning you can help them relearn! If you reframe your thinking about children’s behavior and recognize that misbehavior is usually based on mistaken learning, you are well on your way to helping your kids.