Or, Why My Kids Have Their Phones Out…
I am a stickler for a plan. Type A. Enneagram Type 3. Call it what you will. My closet is color-coded and sleeve-organized. I leave the house every morning with beds made and dishes washed. I never get behind on laundry.
My son blames all of this on my birthplace. “Oh, mom,” he whines, “You just think you have to always do the right thing because you are southern.” And while he is partly right, some of it is just how I was born. I like order, not chaos. I like rules; they make me feel safe.
If I’m honest, I really just want my classroom to look like my closet or my bookshelves. I want everything where it should be, every student at their desk, no loud noises, every surface clean and organized. Does classroom disorder spark joy? Nope…throw it out! But, at the same time, I want to be a good teacher, responsive to student needs, on top of current research about what works best in the classroom. I want to say yes, when I can and as often as I can.
And to top it all off, I can be hyper-sensitive to teachers around me. Are they judging me because students are silent reading on a couch? What do they think about the volume in my classroom. And will I get in trouble for letting kids use their phones to listen to music in class?
How do I do all of this without needing anti-anxiety meds?
My overarching question this year is about personalization.
The Personal Interest Projects (or PIP’s) that we started last year ARE engaging students. I just gave a survey late this fall, and almost ¾ of students are enjoying PIP’s. Students are enjoying getting a say in what they learn and how they spend their time each week
This year, my fellow teachers even immediately suggested putting aside time specifically for PIP’s! So now that I’m getting favorable results and seeing teacher buy-in, I’m turning my attention to other aspects of my teaching. When the Learning Lab first met together in August, I was blown away by what other teachers were doing, how they were working personalization into not just a separate time but their everyday classroom time. I then refined my inquiry question, asking, “How can I give students a completely independent learning experience through PIP’s and then have students use those same skills to give them personalized learning in the humanities classroom?”
To think about it in another way, where can I say yes?
Where can I take away some pre existing boundaries or rules in order to allow students to have choice and hopefully be more engaged?
I started with silent reading time. I received a PTO grant to buy new books and some camp chairs, so students could spread out with choice books. I have let students listen to music on their phones while they read. Overall, it’s going well. My students beg for silent reading, because it’s a cozy time, a normal routine. The music helps them focus, and students love getting that privilege and choice. I’ve even allowed students to start listening to music and spreading out while they work on writing as well.
Just this week, a student who cried last year during silent reading time (because she “hated reading”) came into my room, beaming, because she had just finished a book on her own! Another student can’t stop reading books I recommend…he’s tearing through them!
So basically, it’s all a bright spot.
Oh but wait, then my kids started Snapchatting during silent reading. That’s right…BELLY FLOP TIME!
Listen, if you already feel like you are fighting an uphill battle letting students listen to their own music in your room, if you already feel like you are having to defend your teaching choices to your teammates, then throwing the social-media-use-in-school-monkey-wrench into the mix does not help your morale or your case.
Honestly, at first I was mad. I wanted to just cry, “Uncle,” wave the right flag, never allow phones or music in my classroom. You can’t resist snapchat during silent reading? Fine, then you’re stuck with my late 90’s, early 2000’s indie music mix!
But, no, I quickly reminded myself. This school year is the year of Yes. It’s the year of me letting go of rules that serve no purpose, choosing student’s engagement and voice over my own OCD comfort.
And so the phones stay. And the music stays. I remind myself of the Developmental Design strategy, “Assume nothing, teach everything,” and go over phone and music expectations. I reiterate the expectations every class. I take away the use of phones and music from students that aren’t following the rules.