Knowing and Being Known Through Sharing

I firmly believe that the better I know students—the more I understand the joys and challenges of their daily lives—the more responsively I can teach them. Similarly, the better they know each other, the more cohesive and empathetic a classroom community we can build. In my classroom, several kinds of sharing help us get to know each other.

The sharing component of our daily Morning Meeting is one of the most powerful. Through Morning Meeting sharing, I’ve learned about my fourth grade students’ likes, dislikes, important moments, and what they do outside of school. Aniqua, for example, shared her love of cooking, and Mark told us how much he enjoys baseball. Knowing such things helps me customize and motivate the children’s learning. For example, during writing workshop, when a student says, “I don’t know what to write about,” I’ll use recollections from their sharings to suggest moments they might want to preserve in their writing.

Listening to and observing the children during their Morning Meeting sharings also gives me hints about who had a rough evening or a tough time getting ready for school. Sometimes I’ll check in with an individual privately later on, but often Morning Meeting simply does its magic, and I don’t have to. I love watching how the routine of Morning Meeting helps children shift into gear for the school day and reconnect with our classroom community each morning.

Sometimes, a child shares about a difficult experience during Morning Meeting. For instance, when Jenny shared about how her grandma helped calm things down during a family argument, her classmates’ questions and comments showed great empathy. “That really inspired me,” Maliyah said later. “It made me think about how much my grandma does for our family.”

Morning Meeting sharing can also leave us feeling lighthearted and excited for the day.  One such moment was when Tania shared her love of dancing, telling how her mom and aunt taught her to dance and inspired her wish to become a dancer. Another special moment was Sam’s sharing about spending his weekends brainstorming new inventions because he’s going to be an inventor some day.

Another way the children share in my classroom is through Academic Choice, a Responsive Classroom practice that gives children structured choices about what and how they learn. Academic Choice includes a powerful opportunity for students to share their learning through “representing” meetings. As I observe, I learn about each student’s level of confidence, ability to work with a group, leadership skills, and comprehension of the chosen topic.

Observing Academic Choice sharings also gives me a more complete and nuanced picture of where the children are developmentally. I remember, for example, a time when students represented their Constitution Choice Time projects and a student with a learning disability shone in leadership and presentation skills. She really enjoys singing and performing and pulled the group along with a funny, relevant, and thoughtful skit.

One other way students share in our classroom community is through one-on-one dialogue journaling with an adult (me, a teaching assistant, or a student teacher). I begin this tradition in the beginning of the year as another way to learn about students’ lives, likes, and dislikes.

I begin the dialogue we have in these journals with a simple question about a favorite book. As the dialogue continues, I ask about hobbies, what they do on weekends, and even family dynamics.

I’ve found that corresponding with a teacher can be motivating for children who struggle with writing and a source of pleasure for those who enjoy it. This style of sharing can also be a beautiful complement to Morning Meeting sharing. Sometimes when a child does not know what to share during Morning Meeting, I can suggest something that I learned through our dialogue journal. And the trusting, respectful community we’ve built as a result of Morning Meeting helps students feel safe sharing ideas and experiences in their journals, as well.

Student sharing has become a key part of my teaching. I see the benefits not only in my knowledge of the children, but in the way they come together as a classroom community. Often, as we’re lining up for a special after our Morning Meeting, I hear students reflecting and talking about what they learned from each other that morning. I smile, thinking, “This feels so right—to build community in this way, to know each other through sharing the things that matter in our daily lives.”

Noga Newberg teaches at the Francis Scott Key School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tags: Sharing