I try to give my students a lot of freedom and choice in my classroom. I am not a Montesorrian, and I certainly have restrictions on what they can and cannot do, but, even with that in mind, I let them make a lot of decisions for themselves. This goes from selecting partners and small groups to picking books to read independently to deciding what to do for homework each evening.
I also allow my students to find the best place to work in our small classroom. Some choose to stay at desks, others prefer the carpet, yet others like to lean against the wall or the heating units. When working, several students have found that noise-cancelling headphones really help them focus. (I used to have a full classroom set of 30 that I picked up for a very low price at Harbor Freight a few years ago, but now I am down to about 15 or 20.)
The other day I was finishing up in my classroom after students had left and I noticed something:
At first I felt a moment of frustration because it appeared that several students had failed to take care of their own materials (one of our classroom expectations), but then I realised that I was completely wrong; in fact, the students had come up with an ingenious solution to a complex problem: the box of headphones is kept at the back of the room, but they didn’t want to keep getting them every day. At the same time, their desks are crowded with books and papers as it is, so they wouldn’t fit inside. Finally, desks are supposed to be cleared off at the end of each day (this happens with varying degrees of success), so they couldn’t just leave them on top. So what did the students do? They simply hung them from the support bar under the desks.
It made me wonder what other clever solutions my students come up with that I don’t immediately notice. How many solutions to a problem do they devise that I see as incorrect because it doesn’t look or sound the way I expect? How often do I mistake clever ideas for being off-task, distracted, or disrespectful?
I hope that I don’t.
But I get a feeling that I probably do.
So the next time I see something that seems off, I will ask a student first: can you tell me why you are doing this?
I’m pretty certain I’ll be just as surprised as I was when I find half a dozen or so headphones dangling underneath my desks.