Be Flexible...Beyond the Workshop Model

I don't know if I have mentioned the fact that I work with an amazing team of educators. I fancy myself an innovator, but these women push me daily to think deeper, go bigger, and break out of the box. I wouldn't be the educator I am today without them.

So many times we sat and discussed how we wish we had more time for this or that (Response To Intervention, Spiral Review, Reflection, etc.) You name it, we wanted to be doing it. Always racing the clock. In most teacher training I have been in, that is the piece that always comes up in the challenges and roadblocks talk. How do I get time on my side?

My brilliant fellow teacher, whom I am grateful to call my close friend, suggested we throw the daily schedule out the window...wait, what?!

I've been participating in what we called "Flexible Scheduling" for about 3 weeks now. Just as the transition from whole group to a workshop model changed my practice, this has turned my classroom on its head. In the best possible way. I wouldn't want to go back, that's for sure.

Swap Control for Choice
Why on earth would I throw away my structure? Because I didn't. I have the structure I used to, and more. There is a need for higher structure in this very student led, student centered world of flexible scheduling. But that's the fear, right? If I turn it over to the kids, they'll run amok! How will I know they are getting their work done? How will I hold them accountable? Structure doesn't go away. It becomes stronger. And if you don't have a good hand at structure, this is a great trial by fire of earning those wings.

Let me let you in on a little secret...this is not structure. 

A schedule is not structure. It is a form of control. And control is an illusion. A definition of structure is the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex.

And is our day nothing, if not complex? 

What we did was not destroy our structure, but destroy our illusion of control. We turned it over to the kids. Third graders. 8 and 9 year old children now make part or all of their daily schedule based on a set of required activities and optional activities. We gave back choice. And lots of it. We began to dish out choice like Oprah dishes out good books.

I am a departmentalized teacher of math and science, so my perspective is strictly for those subjects, however we do have a self contained teammate doing this across all four content areas. We plan math and science from a 5E perspective now, and plug 1-2 Es in each day. Within any given E there may be a list of options for the students to choose how they want to engage, explore, explain, or extend their learning of that topic. There are some daily activities that the students always participate in-fact fluency practice, spiral self checking review, and in another class reading and writing. 

Small Group All Day
While the students are busy (and they are BUSY) working through their various schedule at their own pace, in their preferred order, attending to their preferred learning styles, we are spending our entire day meeting in small groups. This is not something new, but now I get to do more of it. I can meet with my lower groups multiple times before an assignment is due, and I can weave in reading strategies with my lower readers for science. This flexible scheduling has provided a priceless freedom for me as a teacher and for my learners. If I need to do a whole group introduction, or I want to incorporate the cooperative learning structures I am so fond of, I can do it. I'm flexible. All day, every day. 

Be The Change
What does the world look like? I keep hearing these messages from Seth Godin, Ken Robinson, and just about every educator with a loud enough microphone. Our world looks very different than our schools. Our schools were built in the industrial age, made for a society to move into a production line factory to take orders and not ask too many questions. Now, our students spend their whole lives following a schedule someone else makes for them, going to the bathroom when they ask and learning how we decide they need to learn. Then they turn 18. Lots of students head to college, where they set their schedule, have to learn to manage their time, figure out how they best learn, and within about 4 years hit this world feeling, quite frankly, rather unprepared. 

My classroom now models this real world we adults live in. These kids are learning invaluable self-management skills. I now have the time to do all the things I want and need to do.  

Please let me know your thoughts, questions, comments, suggestions. I'll follow this up with a student perspective soon.


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