Freedom in the Classroom

February 28, 2007 at 5:04 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers)

Have you ever said or heard a teacher say the following? “My classroom is not a democracy! In here, there is only one rule – do what I tell you to do.” Don’t worry – it happens all the time. Freedom is one of the more difficult basic needs for students to meet in school; however, if we hope to help students become responsible members of a democratic society, then it is important that we allow them to experience freedom in their formative years. Freedom is NOT giving students carte blanche or letting them do whatever they want. In schools, as in society, each measure of freedom comes with an equal portion of responsibility. In schools, teachers can deal with two types of freedom: freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from refers to opportunities that allow us to experience a needed change or to avoid an unpleasant situation. Freedom to refers to opportunities that allow us to choose from a variety of options. Today we will look at classroom strategies promoting freedom from and freedom to.

1) Novelty

The brain needs ritual (procedures and rules) in order to fulfill the need for safety; however, it also needs novelty to spark interest. If everything we do is structured and predictable, boredom sets in. To keep students’ attention, we need to inject novelty into our routine. Some ways to do so include:

Changing location – teachers can move to a different part of the room while talking, students can change seats, the class can go outside, or teachers can switch rooms with other teachers.

Introducing lessons with different kinds of music.

Using a variety of instructional techniques.

Using a variety of cooperative learning structures.

Having students work with a different partner or group.

Beginning class with a team-building activity.

Inserting an energizer during a lesson.

Using props, noisemakers, costumes, poetry, or singing to get their attention.

Taking a field trip.
2) Daily or Weekly Agenda

There may be times when you have a number of things you want to accomplish during a particular day or week, but you can be flexible about when they might be done. Allowing students to help develop the agenda is a simple way of giving them a say in what they will be doing while they have to be in school.

3) Choice of Partners or Team Members

Although many times you will want to determine who works with whom in partners or teams, sometimes you may want to give students freedom to choose their partners or teammates. To avoid frustration with this, start the year with various diagnostic tests – determining learning style, working style and personality and share the results with students. Then when the time comes to create a team, tell students that their teams must have diversity based on the diagnostic tests. Explain to them that you are requiring diversity because it enhances the effectiveness of the groups if they combine their strengths.

4) Student-Generated Curriculum

Getting students involved in developing their own course of study gives them freedom from a curriculum imposed on them without any consideration of their interests. Obviously you are required to cover certain things and can’t let students determine the entire course; however, most teachers can let students develop questions that they want answered in a unit of study to help develop their interest.

5) Choices within Assignments

Even limited choices are better than none at all. So you might allow students to choose between 2 or 3 essay topics all demonstrating the same learning objective or let them choose between answering all the odd or even number problems.

6) Free-Reading

During free-reading time, students can bring in any reading material (legal, moral, and ethical) and everyone reads silently for an amount of time.

7) Free Writing

If you use learning journals in your classroom, you might occasionally provide the opportunity for free writing, which enables students to express their thoughts and feelings in a confidential and safe environment. Free writing can provide a powerful emotional outlet for students, lead to excellent class discussions, and help students generate ideas for formal writing assignments.

8) Choice of Performance Assessment

If the criteria for mastery or competence is made clear by the teacher and understood by students, there are dozens of ways students can demonstrate their learning. Consider:

advice column
artifact collection
charts and graphs
book jacket or book report
booklet or brochure
business letter
CD cover
poems – cinquains, free verse,…
classification system
classified ad
comedy act
comic book
diorama or display
field manual
flip or flow chart
friendly letter
game or game show
graphic organizer
interpretive dance
lyrics or songs
newsletter or newspaper
nursery rhyme
photo essay
puppet show
radio announcement or commercial
TV show
Year in Review or yearbook


1 Comment

  1. misedjj said,

    You might be interested in the Reuters news today then, that the majority of kids are boreed every day in the classroom and don’t read or study even one hour perweek by high school.

    I am a Gator too (love that avatar!) I earned my ed leadership doctorate in Gainesville and even did a stint as elementary school principal in the mid-eighties before migrating to the FL DOE. But we –schoolfolk and society– are doing something very wrong. It is so obvious and we’re running out of believable excuses and changes to make in our standardized child-processing factories, without asking ourselves (and honestly answering) the Dr. Phil question: “So how’s that workin’ for ya?”
    JJ Ross, Ed.D.

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