I think the goal in every grade level is (or should be) for students to be able to work together collaboratively without issue. This can be hard for many (MANY) students, but it is an essential life skill. The sooner children learn how to be respectful collaborators, the easier their working relationships will be in all areas of their lives (think soccer fields, youth groups, family, etc.).
Solarz gives several strategies for teaching children how to work together, how to problem solve conflicts, how to get others' attentions, and how to differentiate between active leaders and passive leaders.
In case you're wondering, active leadership is "when someone actively tries to influence others' behavior," such as speaking directly to them or directing them. Passive leadership is leading by example and others choose to follow them. "Passive leadership shows respect while encouraging others to follow suit." In this chapter, Solarz provides examples of how he encourages his students to lead, saying things like, "Please make sure that everyone in your group understands what to do before you begin," and, "Please check your neighbor's paper to see if the first four steps are done. If not, please help him or her catch up." I love these prompts because they guide students to support their classmates so that no one is left in the lurch.
He discusses "Responsibility Partners" quite a bit in this chapter as well. Responsibility partners work together as a team, not necessarily splitting the workload, but thinking together so that each partner understands what's going on. Partners keep each other on task, talk through problems together, work collaboratively, and share responsibility for success and struggles. Solarz says, "Our class is not about winning as individuals, its about winning as a team." I cannot begin to describe how much I love this. As a class, we learn together, we grow together, and we take care of each other. We are a family, a team, a unit.
At the end of chapter 2, I was still really concerned about handing this kind of responsibility over to 5 and 6 year olds. I still have some reservations, but I am beginning to see how I can implement this in my classroom. I usually have about a third of the class born leaders at the beginning of the year, a third is borderline, and a third needing lots of support. Given the strategies provided so far, I'm thinking the top two-thirds could be well on their way to owning this type of class structure fairly quickly and being excellent models to the ones still working on these skills.
Rambling train of thought here: Kindergarten begins to lay the foundation for academic success. This model of class structure develops a class full of leaders who take initiative for their learning and are respectful citizens of their school family. Shouldn't that be the basis of our education system? Shouldn't we focus on this heavily in early childhood so that, by the time they are in content-rich classes, they take responsibility for their school and their learning? Shouldn't we teach them at a young age how to be respectful and responsible collaborators? And shouldn't this be an ongoing endeavor throughout their school years?
As scary as it seems from the teacher's perspective to have a student-led class in kindergarten, the results could far outweigh our own reservations. When I have provided project-based learning experiences in the classroom, my students have taken the resources I have provided them with and ran with it (not literally, that would be unsafe). Imagine what they could do if we provided a classroom they were responsible for running. We already have classroom jobs, why not take it a few steps further?
What do you think? How do you feel about creating a student-led classroom? Does it scare you or excite you? Are you thinking, "Oh, heck no!" or "I can't wait to start?!" Let me know in the comments below.
Tune in next week for Chapter 4: Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus.