Student-Driven Instruction

One great thing about working at a small independent school like Chicago Friends School is the freedom the teachers are given to take units and lessons in the direction of students’ interests and needs. In the school where I worked before here, we followed scripted curricula for most subjects and did not have opportunities to integrate art, group projects, or experiential learning into these lessons. Here at Chicago Friends School, many instructional decisions can be tailored to the strengths, needs, interests, and opinions of the students themselves. I am grateful for the trust from the adult community to make these decisions. The students have a unique opportunity to pursue areas of interest, and I have a unique opportunity to design lessons around the particular individuals in this class.

For example, for National Poetry Month in April, I had decided that we would read many poems and discuss features of poems. I had not planned on having the students write poems because we would be in the middle of a realistic fiction unit in writing. However, I noticed that many students showed a lot of interest in poetry, and some even requested the opportunity to write poems. Based on the students’ interest, as well as considering the writing objectives I still needed to cover within the rest of the year, I decided to modify my writing units a bit in order to integrate a unit on poetry.

We started the unit this week and I have been blown away with the students’ work. I believe that much of their success so far in writing poems has to do with the motivation and investment that naturally come with working on something they are interested in. I feel very lucky to work at a school where I am able to take instruction in the direction of students’ interests, and I believe that the students are lucky to be at a school where their interests are valued.

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Melanie Berlin

is a classroom teacher on the K-2 team. Before moving to Chicago, Melanie lived in Philadelphia and worked for five years as lead kindergarten teacher at Mastery Charter Mann Elementary School. Previous to that, Melanie lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and taught at an independent school in Oakland, California. Melanie has her B.A. in psychology with a minor in urban education from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her teaching degree from San Francisco State University with a focus on social justice in education.

In her free time, Melanie loves playing ultimate Frisbee, drinking coffee, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and baby daughter.

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