Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Teachers of the Classroom

Today I handed over the control of the course curriculum to my IB Biology students.  Did I feel compelled to justify my decision?  Of course I did.  After listening to my 90 minute lectures and/or participating in laboratory experiments or tutorials every period the entire school year, attending a 6 hour LAB DAY on a Saturday as well as evening and weekend tutorials, submitting their lab portfolios for internal assessment in a timely manner, and surviving a two day IB exam, I felt that they had proven themselves as dedicated students.  Now it was time to give them some autonomy.  I know that I stand in the minority in my way of thinking, but I contend that we underestimate the ability of our students to self-regulate.   Clearly students are not accustomed to the teacher saying, “Go ahead, you figure this out.”  It then leads to some uncertainty.  But within minutes the tone of the group changed and I sat back while my students became the teachers of the classroom.
The group quickly agreed that they would like to do presentations on scientific areas of interest during the remainder of the semester.  This could have gotten tricky since there are a limited number of periods remaining in which we will meet, and one is only two days away.  Collaborators that they are, however, one bright student immediately offered to take that early slot.  Another followed suit.  Amazing.  I wish I had been videotaping this scenario play out.  Corporate America could learn some valuable insights from my I.S. teens. 
The issue of grades was then brought to the table.  Again, I told my students that I entrusted them to define this aspect of the assignment.  Two students volunteered to create a rubric for the class and post it on Facebook (as well as send it to me).  Expectations.  They understand the importance of knowing that the standards should be clearly set from the onset so that everyone will have the maximum opportunity for success.  They can perceive what it means to be fair, and that their grades cannot be gifted, but must be earned.
What purpose does this approach to learning serve?  My students are savvy and will know exactly how much work to do in order to earn the maximum allotted points.  But in researching an area of interest, knowing that their “A” is basically guaranteed, some may find that they enjoy learning more when the work isn’t thrust upon them.  Some will figure out how to connect Biology to other academic disciplines, such as History or Psychology.  Some will decide to make their presentations fun and/or funny to please their peers.  And if for even one student, this is his/her finest memory of IB Biology, then this decision will have been worth it.  The intrinsic value of learning was lost for most students somewhere along with their days of hopscotch.  I look forward to seeing what they come up with when empowered to become the teachers of the classroom.


  1. When I signed up for my Sophomore Year classes my Freshman year, I had put down Honors Chemistry only because I wanted a bit of a challenge. But I was very unfamiliar with the word "Honors" so it scared me. I had asked quite a few people whether or not I should take it and all I got was positive feed back. "you HAVE to take it" "You would love Mrs Berman" "Its a really good challenge". So I decided to go for it, and if it was too difficult, I could always just switch out of it.
    The first day I went in, I had no idea what was going on. But I liked it because Mrs. Berman reassured us that this was a place where we should not be embarassed to ask questions. As soon as she said that,I remember raising my hand so many times.
    I ended up staying in the class because of the way she taught us. I hadnt experienced any other class quite like it. It was almost like I could believe that Mrs Berman actually WAS a kid once in her life. She would give us breaks in between lessons which was the only reason I stayed awake. Some teachers don't seem to look through the point of view of students which is a big reason why students are failing. Personally I think all teachers should get a little life lesson from Mrs. Berman. It'll help us all.

  2. I clearly remember when Ms.Berman gave our IB Bio class complete control :) I like how she trusts us and knows we're all going to succeed in her class. At the beginning of the year IB bio scared me because of all the notes that needed to be taken and all the memorizing that had to be done. Somehow i managed to pass her exams and before the IB test, I honestly felt like i really understood Bio! Thank you Ms. Berman for this wonderful year (in Bio and Hnrs.Chem). I'm glad that you're always assuring us that we can achieve anything we want.

  3. Haha like Dana said I also clearly remember that day! I like how Mrs.Berman give has confidence and trusts her students. Allowing people especially teenagers to do things on their own makes them feel important, when you have confidence in the students it helps the students have more confidence in themselves. I also remember the presentations, not too long ago I made a presentation on Parkinsons Disease. The fact that Mrs.Berman allowed us to make presentations made me happy! It felt cool to change it up and be to information teach the class a little bit about what I researched.

  4. I feel that it is always good to do activities like these. Not only does it give the students a different perspective on how the teachers feel on a day to day basis. It also creates a new intreats in the subject that they are working, by giving the students power to teach something new to the class

    Miguel Preciado