Updated: Aug 7
Many of us manage a partially student-led classroom without, perhaps, even having considered it. I've seen the concept of the morning challenge in use in many learning spaces over the years; the concept being that the children are presented with something to do as they enter in the morning. This is a perfect example of students learning a routine, and, if it is consistent, and offers those taking part something interesting to focus on and to keep them engaged, it can be the foundation on which the building blocks of the student led classroom may be laid.
I began toying with the idea of my own morning challenges in 2013. I was a TA at the time, but had been gifted the use of a decent sized, and fairly prominent, white board of my own. My class teacher was superb, and a huge inspiration on my career and everything that I've done in teaching since, however he didn't employ a system for our first fifteen minutes every day, other than letting the children stream in and taking the register. It was a fairly chatty and restless group of year 3s. I began by simply adding an event from the day in history and some famous birthdays to my display each morning. Incredibly simple, but aimed at grabbing the attention of the group and helping to get them settled.
This was one of my first boards, created at Newport Junior School, Aldershot, in 2014. The board evolved over the year, and before long it encompassed a task which the children could attempt whilst waiting to be registered. I continued to use a similar system throughout my time as a TA, in a number of different classrooms and year groups.
The benefits were swiftly visible; students quickly recognised that their initial minutes in the classroom held purpose. There was less disruption, a reduction in the amount of children visiting the teacher's desk to ask what they should be doing, and a group-wide autonomy which began to slowly develop. The children were beginning to lead themselves.
As I began my PGCE training year, I began to produce a daily PowerPoint, designed to offer the children the same opportunity of completing a challenge and learning about the world around them. Along with a daily look at 'Today in History', the children were also presented with an English and a Maths challenge, word of the day, and an opportunity to 'Spot the Mistake' - an idea which developed after I was lucky enough to witness a motivational talk, in relation to the achievement of boys, by Gary Wilson, who discussed the joy that some of his students found in identifying the mistakes which he often made during his teaching. We all make them, so why not use them as an opportunity to reel the students in and to teach them that nobody, not even their teacher, is perfect! Most recently I've made the addition of 'Quick Maths' and a country of the day to my work.
Over three and a bit years, I've managed to produce a slide for almost every day of the calendar. The first expectation of the year, is that the class learns to enter the room, take their rough books and attempt their challenges, quietly, whilst I deal with the influx of letters, dinner money and everything else that needs addressing. (This concept is discussed during our transition day in July, so that they are well aware of my expectations before they even break for summer!). I have never had a problem with developing this system and 'order of play', and as we progress through the earlier months of the year, I attempt to encourage them to share their working during this time, at a low volume, to ensure that every member of the class is, at-least, attempting to use the word of the day in a sentence of their own, or to use the written methods that they have been learning in their maths, to solve mathematical word problems. This is the first tiny step towards becoming a student-teacher. It's lovely watching the more able fulfill the role of a teacher, or TA, at a time when we often aren't available due to admin!
All my 'Morning Challenge' work is now available via the main morningchallenge.co.uk page. I hope it can help you to achieve similar results in your own work space!