I am a firm believer in giving kids choices over their learning. I spend so much time talking to my kids about making good choices regarding their behavior, that I have found the only way I can truly teach them about their choices is by giving them a chance to make some choices. So, during my centers, I have chosen to not do rotations, but instead give students a choice over where they want to be and what they want to do.
When I first mentioned to some other teachers that I would be allowing this type of choice with first graders, they told me I was crazy. Not with kids this young, I heard. Not with this population of students, I heard. But, I persisted, and persisted. It was not easy, and has caused me some stressful days. However, now 152 days into the school year, I am extremely happy that I stuck with it. My kids have begun to be very cognitively aware of how to make choices that will allow them to get all their work done, and not get into trouble. Here’s what I have done this year to help them learn about making good choices:
1.) I let them practice. Every day – 3 - 6 times a day, students get to choose where they go for their learning center. We do reading centers, writing centers, and math centers, – generally we do two sessions of each type of center, so students have lots of chances to to practice making choices.
2.) Set some limits. Giving students unlimited choices causes chaos and indecision. So, while my students are making choices, I have set some limits for them.
1st - They can only go to each center station twice during the course of a week, so they don’t get to go the computer every time, and they know this is how it works. (They have a checklist to help them keep track of where they have been.)
2nd - There can only be so many people at each center. When a center has the set number of people, we declare it full, and they can’t choose that center for this session.
3rd – I reward good behavior by giving those who have shown good behavior first choice at certain, coveted centers – like the computer center or the puzzle center.
4th – I remind them of who they should not be at centers with. Now, they can’t all be separated from friends they would play with, but most kids have one friend they play with more than others, and they know they shouldn’t be at the same center with that friend.
3.) Offer a reward. In order to make sure that students are truly making good choices in centers and getting their work done, I offer a reward center on Fridays. On Fridays only, if you have completed all the work you are supposed to, you get to go to this reward center – generally a coloring or puzzle center. Once the students figured out that they couldn’t get to this center if their work wasn’t done, they started to plan their center choices much more carefully, and all of a sudden the work at each center was getting completely finished with quality work. (I don’t let you color if you have the work done, but it’s not complete or quality.)
Now, I will admit that there were times this year that I wasn’t sure I should be putting this much effort into teaching first graders about making choices at centers. Then, I saw the effort starting to pay off, and I doubled my efforts. This week, I had a middle school teacher tell me how excited he was by how my kids could work independently, getting their work done and making good choices. He said he knows that the work I am doing will pay off for those students when they get to middle school and he asks them to be responsible for their own learning. This comment made all the work even more worthwhile!
How do you promote making good choices in your classroom?