One afternoon, I was visited by a literacy consultant. She slowly passed by the student work, feedback notes, my cluttered teacher desk and finally stopped staring up at my store generated banner, Your Mind is Like a Parachute, it only works when open. I expected her to make a connection to the words or offer some pithy piece of praise. Instead, she remarked, “Janet Lee, do you realize that store generated posters are often ineffective?” I was very surprised at this! The next morning, I asked my students, “does this banner matter to you?”
Muffled laughter from the back, incredulous smiles. I never even noticed it, miss! One student pointed out in a very matter-of-fact way, that is the same poster Mr. Smith has over his desk.
The consultant had a point. My banner was not really doing what I hoped.
Here is what I did next:
* First, I pushed all the desks away from the center of the room, removed the banner from my wall and placed it on the floor of the classroom. We gathered around the fallen banner as I described why I had chosen to place it on the wall in the first place. Students had some fun making inferences about me based on quotation.
* We talked about how I might change the quotation by adding a different image to the words. Students volunteered to pose for pictures to pair with the words. This was a great way to model the activity for students.
* We discussed what good advice can sound like and shared a few examples of advice (both good and bad). (e.g. Always do your best…don’t spit in to the wind…have respect for others)
* Each student was asked to share (with the group or in pairs) some tried and true advice. Students offered advice from their own experiences and from mentors.
* Students then created a suitable image with the cameras on their phones and spent some time positioning the words on the image.
* We shared the poster creations including brief explanations about why the new poster deserved to be posted in our learning environment.
This activity worked on several levels. While my students showcased their voices and values they also demonstrated all four Language strands! During parent teacher night, each student pointed out their own poster to happy adults. The pride of ownership shined through and my classroom management improved too!
Maybe it is time we put away the parachute for a while so that other jumpers can have a chance.
What do you think of this idea? What other ways do you encourage students to take ownership over their learning environment?
Janet Lee has been an English teacher/Department Chair, Nipissing University Reading Part 3 Instructor, Student Success Literacy Consultant, and Nelson Literacy 7-10 instructional writer and media specialist. Janet Lee recently presented literacy resources at The Great Moon Gathering in Fort Albany, Ontario. She enjoys maintaining her blog This Side of the Mirror-A Journey Through Reflection to communicate with teachers and address current issues in education.