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Responsive Classroom Paper- Jill Herzig
The component of the Responsive Classroom that I have chosen to discuss is the area of Academic Choice. I believe it is based on the theory that each child learns differently and has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. It is our jobs as teachers to discover these unique strengths and capitalize on them for maximum output from the children in our classrooms. Many researchers have proven that not only do children learn best from what they enjoy doing, but a variety of other factors contribute to a child's strengths. These factors include a genetic predisposition, environmental influence, or cultural influences to be stronger in certain areas. These areas have been categorized by Dr, Howard Gardner and are referred to as the Multiple Intelligence Theory. The intellegences include 1.Verbal/Linguistic- shows strength in writing or speaking. 2. Logical/Mathematical- tends toward problem solving and calculations. 3. Visual/Spatial- may tend to paint, draw or read maps. 4. Bodily/Kinesthetic- uses exercise or movement as much as possible. 5. Musical/Rhythmic- tends to use music or song when learning. 6. Interpersonal (People Smart) - enjoys group work, demonstrations, and is in tune to other's feeling. 7. Interpersonal (Self-Smart)- may be a deep thinker who enjoys being alone, or a daydreamer. With this theory in mind, I then have to ask myself, how do I teach? Do I teach toward student's different intelligences and do I keep variety in my instruction? The answer to this question is yes and no. Like most teachers, I do a variety of hands on activities and a few student -directed activities, but they were more like the exception, not the rule. Like most teachers I tend to teach to the verbal and logical learner or the concrete learner. Early on in my teaching, I did not realize there were different ways to teach that helped students learn, and I thought that if a student was not strong in the areas of reading or math, they were not intelligent. The perimeters I set up most often included, written fluency or memorial skills and recall. I now see the error in that judgement. What I did not understand was that they were not as adequate at demonstrating their knowledge in the constraints that I had chosen for them. After attending a workshop on multiple intellegences, I was interested to learn that all children do not learn alike and that students need some need other ways to exhibit their knowledge. One of the main things I learned was that middle school students show a strong preference for bodily/kinesthetic, visual/spatial. Musical/rhythmic and interpersonal intelligences. This is not the main method of instruction most middle school instructors use. We tend to expect more individualized work when in fact these students work best in groups versus one on one instruction. Upon completion of the workshop, I went back into my classroom feeling good about what I could bring to my students and started to teach in a different way. I began to encourage more variety in the children's work and I found that with this variety in instruction, I had more success. The way I implemented these lessons was in a teacher-directed manner. I would teach to the different intelligences, but I used my creativity to come up with the activity. I would bring in lessons that I had thought of before class and by directing the students into groups and instructing them on the tasks I wanted them to accomplish; I squelched their creativity. The second thing I found that I did was I used these special projects as motivators to continue good behavior and study skills. I would threaten the students with the idea that if they did not behave, finish homework, etc; they would not get to do the "fun" projects. Imagine my dismay when we reviewed in our Responsive Classroom workshop how to give academic choice and stay student directed. I was humbled to have to admit that though I did do different activities, I did not give everyone a choice to do all different things.The bottom line was they were still teacher- directed. I realized watching Terrence and my classmates interact that I had it all wrong. I also couldn't believe the logic that went with the Responsive Classroom, and that it made perfect sense to me. Why should I continue to stretch my mind, when the students could come up with ideas that were ten times better then mine? Instead of guessing what I thought they might like, I could let them decide. We can't as teachers choose what we think our students would like to do. We need to respect their right to choose for themselves and see that given the opportunity, they can make wise and creative choices. As a teacher, I can see that this is going to take some changes in my classroom structure and how I teach. I need to let go of the "controls" sometimes and let the students stretch themselves in new directions. I realize that all lessons will not be taught in this manner, but it opens the door to much more variety. I know now that I have been teaching nine years, sometimes I get in a rut by teaching the same thing, the same way every year. By utilizing a student-directed approach, I perceive that you have to trust the students because they will take you in a direction that you have never been. I am very excited to try this out in my classroom and to see what creativity lies within my students. After all, how can we truly know what someone likes or how someone feels about a topic or an issue if we don't ask them? It brings us back to the question we had in the praise versus encouragement section of the workshop. The phrase that sticks out in my mind is, would you make this assumption about a friend? Of course not, we can make our jobs easier by tapping into the student's creativity and strengths by providing an opportunity to learn much more, by giving them flexibility to learn in a way that interests them and respect how they choose to achieve it. I believe at this time, I would start out implementing academic choice once a week. I would need to see how it fits into my schedule and decide the time constraints I need to follow. I would them have to experiment with topics and the process of brainstorming to see how it best works with my class. . After evaluating my efforts, I could then retool my teaching. As time goes on, I can see how I would be able to use Academic Choice more frequently as the students became more familiar with the concept. We need to keep in mind that as educators we need to continually find a way to create an "intelligence fair" learning environment. We need to take into account the different backgrounds the students have come from and where their strengths lie. Dr. Gardner sums it up by stating, "It is important to consider individuals as a collection of aptitudes rather than as having a singular problem-solving facultyThe total is greater than the sum of the parts. An individual may not be gifted in any intelligence; yet, because of a particular blend of skills, he may be able to fill a niche uniquely well. We need to create an environment that encourages creativity and promotes self-awareness. By respecting how our students learn, we will in turn be respected, and know we have done our best to maintain a challenging learning environment.
-- Anonymous, January 03, 2000