At Their Own Pace: Student Voice and Choice

James H. Bean Elementary School, Sidney

"We're starting to say, 'We're not going to let learning be determined by time, by master schedule. We're not going to lock ourselves into certain courses or periods.' ...We let learning just happen naturally."

 

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Teacher: Here at the James Bean School, we started the conversation about customized learning approximately 3 years ago, and many of us who decided to race right out there and get ahead of the curve, started that conversation, reading and researching, and talking with various teachers all over the state.

I think the innovation comes in that now we're starting to think outside the box.

We're starting to say, "We're not going to let learning be determined by time, by master schedule. We're not going to lock ourselves into certain courses or periods." That we let learning just happen naturally.

Teacher: My name is Elizabeth Firnkes, and I've been teaching at the James H. Bean school for 6 years.

Today was a workshop day, which means that students had voice and choice.

They were allowed to work on any measurement topic they needed help on.

Student: A lot of people are working on different things: you can work on writing, math, reading.

Sometimes one of the teachers will give you a student that's struggling with that, and you can take them over to somewhere and go through the process and teach them.

And that happens a lot around here.

I think it's easier because you're talking to a kid, and they're using words that you actually understand.

Teacher: Voice and choice for all of us is a such a powerful thing.

If we aren't feeling like we're in a box and we're told exactly what we need to do every step of the way, they're able to feel like there individuals, which they are.

They know that we're here for them, and that it's our job to change the way we teach in order to fit the way they learn.

Student: You can go at your own pace and you're responsible now.

Teacher: I feel like I get home at the end of the day and I feel like I did the best I could for every child.

Whereas before, when I was teaching in a traditional model, I'd go home and I'd think, oh man, I didn't hit this, this and this, and I know that he was struggling in the back of the room and I couldn't help him today.

And I don't feel that anymore. I feel like every second of our classroom day is spent helping kids at their level, with what they need.

This is who I am now. This is just the way that I teach.

This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.