Time to Let Students Shine


Regardless of if your model of instruction has been remote, hybrid, or in-person during this unique school year, your students have grown over the course of their time in your class. They have added to their bank of knowledge and increased their stamina for focused academic work. Classroom routines have been practiced and mastered, and you have provided multiple opportunities for them to strengthen both academic and social-emotional skills. So, even though it has been a school year like no other, this final stretch remains the perfect time to release some control to your students. 

Ready for More

Just as in other years, the deeper you move into the school year, the more responsibility you can turn over to your students. They are ready for the challenge of higher order tasks, such as applying information and skills in new situations, analyzing data to make connections between concepts, evaluating information to draw conclusions, and creating new or original work. You can provide opportunities for students to show what they know and build more independence by providing structured choices in their learning. Stepping back to let students take the lead in their own learning will naturally allow all students to shine. 

Offering Choices

Providing learning choices for students is one way to increase intrinsic motivation because it offers students autonomy in how they apply what they have learned. Choices in learning can lead students to become re-energized about the curriculum, dig deeper into topics of high interest, and get creative about communicating what they know. Most choice activities and projects bring together academics and social-emotional learning, as students may have to employ some problem-solving, handle frustration or success, or work with a partner or in a group with others. Academic Choice is a structure that can enable students to make a choice about what or how they learn and then make a plan, execute the work, and reflect on the outcomes. 

Become the Guide on the Side

Sharing some control of the learning with your students can also re-energize educators! Passing along some decision-making to your students can empower them to apply their learning in ways you had not considered before. You are still involved in planning and facilitating the lesson structure, but students take on more responsibility for their learning. This gives you time for more careful observations of your students and one-on-one conversations in which you can use  open-ended questions to reveal their thinking and learning. This can also give you time to focus on those students who may need more intensive support. You can provide additional instruction and modeling targeted to their specific needs. State testing often takes place around this time, so choice projects also provide a low-stress, enjoyable learning experience for the afternoons. Students can demonstrate and apply what they’ve learned instead of tackling new concepts and skills when energy and stamina might be low. 

Despite the challenges of this school year, your students are ready for a gentle push into more independence with higher order thinking and learning. Providing choice is one way to facilitate how students can apply their learning. By taking on the role of the observer, you can watch your students show you their strengths and growth areas. This lets them shine and can help inform any additional instruction needed in the remaining weeks of the school year. 

For more ideas, check out “Academic Engagement in the Home Stretch.” 

Written by Kristen Vincent, Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher

Kristen Vincent is a consultant for Center for Responsive Schools and has over 20 years of experience working in education. She began her teaching career as an educator at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts. Kristen was also a classroom teacher for 10 years at the Newman Elementary School in Needham, Massachusetts, where she was first introduced to the Responsive Classroom approach during a summer workshop. She quickly developed a passion for Responsive Classroom teaching practices after experiencing the positive impact the approach had on her classroom community. Kristen is co-author of Closing Circles: 50 Activities for Ending the Day in a Positive Way and The Joyful Classroom: Practical Ways to Engage and Challenge ElementaryStudents, both published by Center for Responsive Schools. She holds a bachelor of science in education from Wheelock College and a master’s in special education from Simmons University. Kristen lives in Westborough, Massachusetts, with her daughter, and serves as an elected member of the Westborough School Committee.