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.
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.