The following is an excerpt from Marsha Ratzel’s new book In High Gear: My Shift Toward a Student-Driven, Inquiry Based Science Classroom.
Most classrooms follow a prescribed formula. Teachers plan and lay out what is going to be learned. Students come into class and have the responsibility of switching themselves into “ready” mode, waiting for the teacher to instruct and guide them in the day’s tasks. There is very little student ownership in this process.
Surely there were parts of the learning process where the control could be shifted to the students – where I could hand them responsibility and freedom and give them a voice in what they would learn. Although it would be impractical for me to think they could run a classroom as well as a veteran teacher, I hoped I could guide them as they took control of the questions they would pursue.
Knowing that handing students most of the responsibility for learning without preparation was not a realistic first step, I designed “skill-builders” to transition the classroom. I used layers of traditional teaching/learning experiences and experiences where the process was open-ended but had a clearly defined endpoint. This built skills in both my own teaching practice and in my students’ learning practice. I tested things for effectiveness and they developed the new personal skills to stay on course as their control of their own learning increased. Notably, experiencing small obstacles helped to develop students’ coping ability—an important skill for open-ended, open-process activities.