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My students are hard workers! We have stamina and momentum. I know this to be true because we discuss it daily. Along with curriculum goals, I stress the importance of being aware of how we learn – Metacognition! We think about thinking.


When my students first met me, they went through quite an adjustment period. They were a stressful group and they were always anxious about “finishing.” All of their focus and energy was directed to this goal of finishing. I felt as though there was a beast looming over them waiting to pounce. It was scary.


It took me months to re-program their attention to learning and away from the scary finishing monster. I can’t even describe their faces when I told them I don’t keep kids in for recess. They were shocked. They had been taught that if they didn’t finish all of their work, they would lose their recess!



We post a “to do” list on the board each day. They know that this is a guide and we view it as ambitious goals. We call the list “ambitious” because we know that
we won’t always finish items. After my mini lessons, each student decides the order of the work they will do. Some students like to do the most challenging tasks first, while others like the feeling of accomplishing the easier tasks first. They know the order is a personal choice and I’m happy if they are learning.

I came up with this procedure because I’m a list maker. If I have a lot of work to do, I want to do what I want to do, in the order I want to do it. My list and my mood determine the order. It is never the same. Why not give this power to kids?

What I have found is that kids thrive when given choices! They need to feel in control of their learning. For my students with attention issues, this has been a revelation for them. They flourish in an environment where they can break their assignments into manageable chunks. As they work, they can turn in assignments, gather things for the next, take a break, ask me questions… they can MOVE!

Could you imagine being told you can’t get up for hours until you finished your list of things to do? I couldn’t do it.

Now, you may wonder if there are students who take advantage of this freedom and do little work at all. It very rarely happens. The students have learned the value of self-monitoring. At times it may appear as if a student isn’t working; maybe they’re thinking, pausing, resting, or clearing their minds. This is encouraged. (Don’t we all need this?)

While they are working independently, I’m working with students one-on-one or in small groups. They know if they need me, and I’m busy, they can go onto something else or ask a friend. Most importantly, when I work with them and they show me their work, if I feel they have mastered the concept, I declare it finished. This was hard for some overachievers to embrace. I don’t like tedious, busy work.

Another benefit is for some students who may struggle in a particular area, they can work more slowly without worrying about catching up or falling behind. They know that I value the process, not how many problems they finished.

They trust me. They know I’m fair. When I look up from my table and see my students, some are working at their seats, some are lying on the floor, and some are under tables. They are learning.

I’d like to think that I’m preparing them for the future when they will have “to do” lists in their adult lives and they will rely on the foundation of good work habits they learned.

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22 thoughts on “You will NOT Lose Recess Here

  1. Brilliant ideas. You ask a great question:”Why not give some of the choice over to our students?”
    I'm learning that teaching is not so much about having control as it is about being the rudder. Thanks for reinforcing these ideas! BH

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  2. Thanks everyone for the comments and the support. Some people are often confused when they come into my classroom. It does not look like a traditional one. I really appreciate the support. Thanks again, Nancy

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  3. great ideas, your post is getting me thinking, I may be one that is to focused on the finishing, I always have trouble when kids are not learning to, think I need to let go of some control

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  4. Your classroom sounds like a great place for learning. The lessons your students are learning about organizing and planning tasks will truly benefit them as adults. To often kids are expected to walk, talk, act, and think the same way, always following the teacher's lead. Then they graduate and go out in the world, and we wonder why they can't think for themselves.

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  5. Dear Educated Exchange, Thanks for your comment, kind words and support. I tried repeatedly to register with educatedexchange, but I kept receiving an error message. I sent an email. I love the idea of connecting so I'm hoping we can figure this out. Thanks again,
    Nancy

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  6. Nancy,
    Thanks for sharing this! It reminds me of the way one of my colleagues and I designed our work times in our fifth grade classrooms. Certain days were designated as “choice” days and students had their own “agendas.” We designed their agendas based on individual needs, including 1:1 or small group support in certain areas, then allowed them to spend a few hours working through the learning tasks at their own pace, in their own ways. They had the opportunity to work on self-designed learning projects as well. It was a bit time-intensive to get everything started up, but once we did, the classrooms ran themselves! Students absolutely loved it. If I ever return to the classroom, I know this is exactly how I'd want my classroom to be structured. I am going to share your post with my staff! Thanks again!

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  7. Hi Lyn,
    Thanks for the comment and support. It is reassuring to know that there are fellow educators who embrace this technique. My student observer was in awe of the juggling and extra energy it takes to keep working with students one-on-one. My goal as a former head of school who returned to the classroom is to share this method with others. I'd like to see students as the focal point in the classroom – not the teacher. I know that when students feel in control and have choices, they flourish and truly learn. (Sorry for getting up on my soapbox!) I'm passionate about students being able to think about their learning (metacognition) and move around, discuss, collaborate, design, etc. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'd be happy to discuss this further if some of your staff are interested.

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  8. This approach to a daily list of “things to do” really establishes a real life organization tip that can be transferred from school to home. I am constantly rewriting my personal “list of things to do” and each time I cross out an item, I feel a real sense of accomplishment and by the end of the day, I have a personal feeling of achievement. I teach 4th grade and we use a weekly menu that lists our “main dishes”, “sides”, and “desserts”. The “main dishes” must be complete before students move on to the “sides” and “desserts”. There is no particular order that the “main dishes” must be completed. This freedom of choice really stamps out lack of motivation in the classroom. Students can move freely from one dish to another as long as on Friday they have finished all the “main dishes”. At first I was very hesitant about releasing the control over the schedule and routine, but now the rapport surrounded by trust fills the classroom and it eliminates unnecessary stress. I truly believe that my attention has transferred from time keeper to coach/teacher. Thank you for the inspiring pat on the back and for getting all teacher the courage to try something new.

    Jessica Lynch
    Texas

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  9. I love the idea of maind idshes, side disher, and deserts. I am thinking I would like to incorporate this into my classroom and at home with my daugghter who is 7and in the first grade as it pertains to homework and house chores. Do you have any suggestions on how best to do this at home. I would love to hear a sample of your menue!!!! Thanks so much.
    Kristen
    kbgfeldman@gmail.com

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  10. I am not sure if this posted so I am trying again. I love the idea of a weekly menue /to do list I would love to hear a sample of your classroom menue. Do you think I can even do this at home with my 7 yr old who is in first grade. I would like to do it with her homework and chores etc….Thanks for your feedback!
    Kristen
    kbgfeldman@gmail.com

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  11. Would you mind sharing a sample of what a typical (I know typical is not the best word) to do list might look like? I teach second grade and have been using to do lists for a while, but mostly they need to go in order. I rank their importance for them.

    I will definitely be challenged by this.

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  12. Hi Cathy, Thanks for writing. You're so right! No list is typical. Because I individualize and differentiate, there are so many different things on the “to do” list. For example, for Reading Workshop some students will work on Active Reader's Report and others will work on End of Book Letters. (You can find examples of the Reading Workshop forms on my class website on the Teacher Resource page. The http://www.nancyhniedziejko.com) Some students may be finishing an essay while others are working on math. It changes constantly. My student observer is amazed by the juggling, but it works for me. Hope that helps. Nancy

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  13. Just found this post on the 'Best of the Best' doc…I love it – We all need our breaks during the day and for kids it's no different. They need that break.

    More importantly, you are giving them the opportunity to set priorities and goals. As someone mentioned – it's real life.

    Nancy you are a wonderful teacher with wonderful ideas – thanks for inspiring us all.

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  14. Thanks, Nancy. I am always grateful that you stop by and comment. Your support means so much to me. This post is near and dear to who I am as a teacher. It is about respecting children. I'm glad you agree that kids need a break! Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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