My class is well-behaved right now. You might not notice it at first glance. At one table, a group of girls are working on their STEM project. It’s a solar oven and they’re frustrated with trying to keep the heat from escaping. A visitor comes in and leaves surprised that English Langauge Learners are engaged in critical thinking. Students are spread out, backs against the wall holding their Chromebooks, writing on their blogs, digital stories or Storybird books.
Another visitor asks me, “How do you make them behave so well?”
“I don’t,” I say.
She looks at me skeptically and I feel like a pompous ass. The truth is that there are moments when I’ve been super-strict, during read-alouds or in direct instruction. But right now . . . it’s not work. I’m not making anyone do anything.
The volume moves through an ebb and flow, but it never gets too loud. Kids are free to choose, free to move, free to approach me with the questions. It should be anarchy, right? It should feel chaotic and scary? It should be “out of control.” And it is out of control. Out of teacher control, at least. But there’s a lot of self-control mixed with a lot of passion.
It turns out kids don’t want to scream when they’re excited about their work. It turns out they don’t want to wander around for no reason when they can sit where they please (even if it is up against the wall). It turns out they don’t want to yell across the classroom when they can sit by a friend. It turns out they can keep a reasonable volume, complete all their work and learn new things when given a ton of freedom.
This isn’t news to me, but this is news to them. Many of them are surprised by how well they can handle freedom.