It’s mid-year as I write this article which is a great time to tweak some practices in my classroom. One area I’m revisiting is student ownership of the classroom. I’m all about giving them jobs. They’re not too old. Even though line monitors may not work well in high school a lot of students enjoy classroom jobs. It does wonders for students with ADHD. And (most importantly?) it takes some tasks off your plate!
Your students will gain more ownership over their environment if they’re a part of its day-to-day operations. Teens can handle a plethora of tasks. In addition to handing out papers and writing on the board they can keep the class organized, help to decorate it and even babysit the class “pet”. With practice your students can facilitate class shareouts and run discussions.
Here’s a confession: I’m not great with delegating at the beginning of the year for 2 reasons:
1. I’m a bit of a control freak
2. I don’t know the kids yet
Mid-year is a great time to add classroom roles. The students are comfortable with you and each other. So let’s jump in a delegate!
Jobs Around the Classroom
DATE MONITOR. Let’s start with the beginning of the day. I always have the date written on my whiteboard (even though it’s on the first slide, too – they still ask me, “what’s the date?”) Choose a student that has good attendance and comes to class on time to update the whiteboard for you.
If they’re one of the first in class it gives them something to do. Quite frankly, I used to forget on a regular basis, which was an excuse for distraction:
“Ms. Medori, today’s not the 8th, it’s the 9th!”
“No, it’s not, dummy, it’s the 10th!”
Sigh. If you post daily objectives or homework on the board, she can also update that. There are always several kids who love to write on the board; now it can be productive.
This job can encompass many things, depending on your class. Do you have a file of prior homework that absent students can access? The monitor ensures that there are copies available. Or if you only allow late work for a week, he can discard copies that are older than that.
Do you have plants that need watering around the room? How about a computer cart – are all laptops in place and charging? Are there any posters, signs, or notices that are coming down and need retaping? Any books lying around that belong in the class library?
All of these tasks can fall under the job of organization monitor. If you have several tasks 2 students can share the work.
I know that taking attendance is a legal act and very serious and important. Kids shouldn’t do it. That said, I still let a responsible student take the initial attendance. I created attendance sheets and copy them each week. The student, who must be on time for class, marks the absentee students and updates the sheet for students who come in late.
Later I enter the actual attendance online and submit it.
This allows me to do other things at the beginning of class and is a second set of eyes. Attendance is a lot like proofreading; it’s hard to catch your own errors. The attendance student is a redundancy that ensures accuracy. (Shhh, don’t tell)
Seriously, I am the one who actually submits the official attendance, so no harm, no foul.
This is a job that many teachers delegate. There’s a delegate balance at work here. On the one hand, I love to hand this off to a “high-energy” student who has trouble staying in her seat. On the other hand, they have to have enough self-control to complete the task in a responsible manner.
Just today I gave “Jaden” the handout for the day to distribute. He had been literally bouncing off the walls. A minute later I realized he was insisting that each classmate say “thank you” before he would hand over the worksheet. Sigh.
Ted is a small stuffed bear that takes the role of class mascot. Each week he has a different babysitter who brings him to their desk and ensures his safety during class. There are always several students who want this job.
This one is really helpful for students with anxiety issues. Caring for a soft little fuzzy bear distracts and calms them.
Ted update: Last week while I was out with COVID two students were playing catch with Ted near an open window and guess what happened? Yup; RIP, Ted. After an adequate mourning period, he will be replaced. (That’s not the only shenanigans that went on while I was out, unfortunately)
RUNNING THE LESSON
Now we’re getting into the good stuff, where students really take ownership and responsibility for their learning. My favorite is:
DO NOW MONITOR
Every teacher in my school begins class with a 5-minute “do now”. You may call it a bell ringer, brain starter or sit-down-calm-down-answer-this-now. Each week a different student runs the share-out and receives extra-credit participation points for their efforts.
In the beginning, they had a script to support them:
- Raise 3 fingers and loudly count down 3-2-1 to quiet the class
- Choose a student’s name (I have a cup with each name on popsicle sticks) to read the learning target
- Choose a student to read the question. Say thank you.
- Choose a student to answer the question.
- Direct class to place thumbs up if they agree with the answer, thumbs down if they disagree and thumbs to the side if they want to add on
- Call on students with thumbs down or to the side
- Conclude with “Thank you for your participation.”
Some students are great at this, some not-so-much. But the class usually respects the student-teacher and I can walk around checking answers, double-check the attendance and prepare for the next part of the lesson. It’s pretty awesome. And the admin LOVES it!
Scenario: you post a question for debate/discussion on the board. Each week the discussion monitor will run the discussion. If you have a “talking stick” he will walk around and hand it to the person who has the floor. I used to have a fake mic which worked really well (RIP mic, too).
The discussion monitor can also revive a lagging discussion. If you have sentence starters on the wall (they’re great) he can simply use one and encourage a few more comments before moving on with the lesson. He can also offer pushback if no one else does.
“Thank you for that answer. Can you clarify….”
What Else Can you Take off Your Plate?
These suggestions only scratch the surface of possible responsible your teens can take on in the classroom. My experience is that most high school classes can handle many small and big tasks.
Unfortunately, I have had a couple that were really tough. I have one group this year that’s just a bad mix of kids. There is a posse of friends all in the class together. And a few others with VERY strong personalities.
In a situation like that discretion has to come into play. There are some tasks I won’t delegate in that class. It would just cause chaos. Sigh.
Your class will take on a whole new atmosphere. With students in charge of their environment and the lesson itself, cohesion and a family vibe ensue.