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Students Plan for a Day of Learning

This is the third in a series of blog posts about strategies I use to help my students take ownership of their learning. The first post was about class meetingsThe second post was about giving kids opportunities to determine their own writing and reading plans every Friday afternoon. (Coming soon is the fourth post in this series about using student surveys to provide feedback about the classroom.)


"Yesterday I felt more independent than ever because I had to tell myself what to do." - 5th grade boy

It did not come as a surprise that my students embraced the idea of planning their learning for an entire day. That is what being autonomous and self-directed is all about and what we all desire to be in our day-to-day experiences. Allowing students to create their own schedules for learning, albeit conditioned by specific parameters (reading, writing, math, science and/or social studies had to be addressed in the plans), allows them to challenge themselves about what matters to them, what they are curious about, or to work on self-selected areas that they want to get better at. 

"What went well was that I could work on something that I am not sure about [rather] than doing something with the teacher that I already know." - 5th grade girl

My students were already accustomed to working on self-selected reading and writing projects on Friday afternoons during literacy block. Yet, despite my initial excitement about extending this opportunity for an entire day, I hesitated when the time finally arrived right at the end of the school year. Could my students handle the freedom they were being given? Would they stick to their plans? Would they make wise choices about whom to work with and what to do during that time? Would the classroom be noisy and chaotic? What would the other teachers say?

"Something that went well yesterday was that I got to be more responsible [for] making my own decisions." - 5th grade boy

All classroom assessments and standardized testing were complete. We had a week left of school, but only two or three days without field trips, assemblies, or other special events. So, I took a deep breath and trusted that my students would take advantage of this opportunity.

What happened that day was a reminder that when we trust our students they will do great things that matter to them. 

"What went well is I did everything planned and it was super fun." - 5th grade boy

My students were responsible for developing their plans for the day and following them carefully. When necessary, they could negotiate a change in their schedule. Usually this happened when students were so involved in an experiment or a piece of writing that they did not want to stop. Fine with me! 

"Don't follow the plan ALL THE TIME. Sometimes, if needed, make changes." - 5th grade girl  

As it turned out, it was an incredibly successful and productive day for them with a few aha moments slipped in here and there, some of which I've highlighted above. As a result, I am planning to do this at least after every marking period, or four times during the year.  

The steps the students took to create their learning plan were rather simple and contributed to making the day a success. 

First, I wrote the day's schedule on the white board with specials blocked off. Next, students planned activities that would last for at least 30 minutes. They could work with one other classmate on any project during the day, if they so wished. Students had to address reading, writing, math and inquiry projects, the latter connected to social studies and science which are addressed through the Primary Years Program (PYP) of the International Baccalaureate (IB). Finally, at the end of each learning event, students wrote a brief description of what transpired. 

While students worked I walked around and served as a resource, facilitator, and encourager. Sometimes, students simply wanted to share what they were doing with me. Other times, they looked to me to help them solve the problems they were encountering, but I tried, as much as possible, to let them figure this out on their own. 

Next time, I plan to give students a paper copy of the schedule rather than writing it on the board. I will also allow time during the day for everyone to share either in a small group or whole class. 

If you've done something like this before or have suggestions for improvement that would allow students more choice and ownership, please be sure to leave a comment below. 

Disclaimer: I first heard about this idea during a Twitter chat. Unfortunately, I don't remember during which chat or who tweeted about this, but I will be forever grateful for that moment in the conversation. So, thank you, whomever you are and wherever you are! 
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I share some questions I'm grappling with in my classroom. 

No answers. 

Just questions.

(1) What purpose do math stations serve in my classroom?

(2) How can I continue to engage writers without overwhelming them or me?

(3) How can I determine if my tangled readers are learning to be better readers from the books they choose to read?

(4) How can I strike a balance between student choice and making sure my students learn what they need to learn at any given time?

(5) Am I demanding too much from my students?

As I find responses and solutions to these issues, I will post some ideas on my blog.

Any thoughts are more than welcomed!