Home' Teacher : April 2010 Contents LOOKING INTO PRACTICE 21
I have a new motto for my teaching, 'It's not
my learning!' I'd attended the first two days
of the Monash University Science Teaching
and Learning (STAL) professional develop-
ment program, sponsored by Melbourne's
Catholic Education Office, and I'd read Jo
Osler and Jill Flack's Whose Learning Is It?
The STAL experience and the book made
me realise that I was the main decision
maker in my classroom, and it was wearing
me out. I made a mental checklist.
Do I decide where the students put their
bags in the morning?
Do I decide the furniture layout?
Do I decide the seating placements in the
Do I decide what tasks or activities are to
be completed and when?
Do I decide how tasks or activities are
to be completed, and whether they're to be
completed independently, in small groups
or large groups?
Do I decide groupings for certain activi-
Yes -- most of the time.
Then I asked myself whether these deci-
sions have a direct impact on me. Besides
making my day a little easier, the decisions
have a direct impact on everyone else in the
classroom, but not on me. So why was I
I guess the main reason was that in a big
class it was easier and quicker if I made the
decisions, but then I felt shocked to real-
ise the message to students implicit in my
actions. You're not capable, my actions
implied, of making decisions that affect you.
I realised I needed to allow my students
the opportu nity to make decisions, but
probably I needed to teach them how to do
Looking back at my list, I realised there
were a few aspects of decision making
that I could combine that we could work
on together -- things like furniture layout,
seating placements and how tasks are to be
completed. After some discussions with the
class, we decided -- yes, all of us -- to reor-
ganise the room to include a quiet working
area for independent work, a group working
area and a larger, multipurpose floor area.
We worked together to develop guide-
lines for working behaviours in these areas
and consequences for those who decided not
to follow the guidelines. The students then
decided the process for how they wanted to
complete a task and where they would sit in
order to do so.
So far so good.
Next on the list was deciding which tasks
students would do and when. I experimented
with giving them a list of tasks they needed
to complete and a block of time to complete
their work. I gave each child a blank time-
table to fill in, to help them stay on task and
on time, not that they needed help.
Every child -- yes, all 29 of them -- stayed
on task, completed work to a suitable stand-
ard and loved having choice.
Throughout the session I could hear deci-
sions being made everywhere.
'I'm going to start with the reading,
because I want to save the technology activ-
ity until last.'
'I'm going to try and do all my written
tasks first so I can have extra reading time.'
'I know it's going to take me more time to
do the division task, so I'll do it first.'
'Mrs Dennis, I'm not sure if I'll need that
much time, but I'll just rearrange the others
if I go over.'
'I'm going to do division and get it out
of the way.'
Lastly, I knew I needed a way to deal
with all the little niggles that occur in our
classroom that can undo a good work plan.
I remembered hearing from a colleague
about a 'catastrophe scale.'
At the top of the catastrophe scale are
the big catastrophes in life like the death
of a parent or sibling, a long-term illness
ARE YOU THE MAIN DECISION MAKER IN YOUR CLASSROOM? IF YOU ARE, YOU MIGHT NOT BE
GIVING YOUR STUDENTS THE BEST OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN, SAYS EMILY DENNIS.
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