Student Voice and Choice

Student Voice & Choice: Collaborative vs Cooperative work


Cooperative vs. Collaborative learning: Each has its place and time in the learning environment.

Listening to another person isn’t easy especially when we are asked to work with someone who may not have the same opinions or viewpoints as us. Being asked by the teacher to work in small groups, towards an end goal involving multiple required tasks, isn’t easy.

We ask our students to work together on many occasions. We must equip them with the necessary social skills to work successfully with others. There is a difference between cooperative groups and collaborative groups in learning environments. Let’s look at them:

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning tasks are usually teacher-structured with students given assigned specific tasks to complete, specific reading materials to read and activities to complete. Teachers observe and intervene when necessary and teachers again assess completed work at the end of the assignment when the students turn in their work. In other words, cooperative learning it teacher-driven. There isn’t much, if any, student voice or choice.  Cooperative learning activities are beneficial because they can:

  • help students learn information quickly with the help of others.
  • encourage students to work together to achieve a common goal.
  • promote excitement in learning
  • promote support of each other to complete an assigned task
  • encourage time-on-task behavior

To be successful with cooperative learning, it is important students understand their particular role in the group project. Task Managers, Time Keepers, Artist, Historian, Visualizer, Materials Manager, and whatever other roles or titles are given for the task, for each student, it is important to outline for every student the responsibilities and time frame for the group start and completion date. There is also individual and group accountability built into the process and product. Cooperative learning usually has some kind of rubrics to self assess and group assess the work and productivity throughout and upon completion of the work. There is an assessment of the product as well by the teacher and students.

Cooperative Learning works great in classrooms for all ages of learners. Kindergartens can learn to cooperate with each other on tasks with specific jobs, up to high school seniors working on a presentation in AP History about the effect of past and future battles and lessons learned throughout. Specific responsibility placed on individuals to collectively achieve a common goal is a value and communication skill needed to work with others in any environment. When our boss asks a group of people to work together on specific tasks based on strengths to reach a common goal, communication is critical. Cooperative learning used wisely in K-12 settings with fluid teacher support, will help students learn the value of timelines and strengths to achieve a common goal.


Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning gives students the responsibility to work individually on a task while being responsible for a common goal with others in a group. Students are expected to self-manage their tasks and time use as they have to report to their group on their progress, along with the others working on the same goal. In collaborative learning, there is an expectation students will understand through conversation and processing, the strengths of their group members thus assigning specific tasks to each member by these strengths. The process is student-directed, not teacher-directed. It is the group’s responsibility to give deadlines to each other and hold each other accountable for task completion.  Students assess their own individual and group performance. The teacher does not monitor the group’s progress; only provides support when asked by the group and at these points usually acts as a facilitator and not the administrator.

The activity or challenge question (think inquiry-based learning) is open-ended than cooperative learning. Students are expected to explore the question and attempt to solve the problem using their choice of materials, research, and learning processes. The learning is much less structured with students deciding their path of exploration. The teacher is a facilitator to listen to and support the processes in each group.

Benefits of collaborative learning include:

  • development of self-directed learning
  • development of student strengths
  • development of communication skills
  • development of problem-solving

Whether you choose cooperative or collaborative learning for any educational task, preparation is important.

Remember these points to help set the class up for success:

A. Classroom environment

The physical classroom space should have spaces for whole-group learning and exploration, small-group teamwork, technology access, hands-on exploration and manipulation center, and independent workspace.

B. Classroom Workspace norms

It is important to discuss and model positive communication examples for each area. Voice level, movement, sharing materials, storing materials, how to disagree; all are needed to help students understand how to effectively communicate and problem-solve. Place expectations (developed by the class) on charts and displayed at each area. Groups should go over the norms whenever they walk into an area to ensure everyone understands and is agreed to the working rules.


When teaching, decide whether the learning standard would best be accomplished through cooperative or collaborative learning, develop the physical environment to best meet the needs of the task and learners, and instruct your students in the proper ways to interact and the students should reap the benefits from the learning activity.

Cooperative vs Collaborative:  Both have their place in teaching depending on the results you wish to achieve.


Student Voice and Choice · Uncategorized

Student Seating: Choice and Comfort


Are your students comfortable and engaged in their learning? Do they sit where they want as long as they are on task? Are they working with others in small groups, huddled together?

My students have learned from many class discussions and creations of class expectation anchor charts, how to work in comfy chairs with their choice of work partners and they are loving it.

Students move furniture around as they need to, owning the classroom’s physical space. They are comfy and enjoy the room and I do too.

This didn’t happen overnight and the need to repeat expectations and sometimes move students to other areas of the room when many attempts to stay on task didn’t work, still makes for a successful learning environment that the students and I love walking into and working with.

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A flexible seating environment gives students greater voice and choice in their learning seating and location and work partners. As long as clear expectations are given, along with patience, students can and most often succeed and thrive in this type of environment.

The room becomes “ours” not “the teacher’s” even when I have to move students for independent work or testing, small group teacher time, or specific seating arrangements for a specific task; those times are not every day and all day. Our flexible seating classroom is almost every day, all day. Student voice and choice make a huge difference in their commitment to learning.

If you would love to know more or have questions and want support, I can be reached in my blog.

Let’s continue our conversation!





Students Today: Who are they and how do we reach them in our classrooms?

Students today: What kind of learner are they?



According to NEA Today, the current generation of kids, born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s, are the generation referred to as Generation Z. These students are concerned about the environment, want to go to college but are nervous about the costs,  and they have never known a non-digital world. They are private individuals, entrepreneurial, and they multi-task. This group of learners will face problems we haven’t yet seen in jobs we have yet to see. Collaboration is critical. Soft skills are important. Engagement is paramount.

Knowing these traits are in our learners, we need to adjust our instruction to meet these needs. Teaching traditionally with “sit and get” type learning, desks or chairs in rows, will not work.  So you wonder what does teaching and the classroom look like?

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare to teach:

  • Engaging activities: Whenever possible, use real-world problems or situations to solve or improve. Area and Perimeter in Math can be taught while designing and making beds for pets at the local animal shelter. Students will become engaged with this task while they learn to write letters or speak to the shelter asking for specific information about the animals housed. ELA speaking, reading, and writing standards are taught right along with the math.
  • Provide multiple ways to demonstrate mastery of a topic or skill: Students should be given opportunities to express their learning. Slide shows, written plays, commercials, blogs provide avenues students can channel their interests to show what they know.
  • Reflection: It is critical students are given specific and regular-scheduled times to reflect on their learning. This is one of the best ways to cement learning. Journal entries, entrance and exit tickets, conferences all provide ways to show learning which gives the student and the teacher chances to support or enrich the learning.

Student voice and choice empower learners to be in charge of and take greater ownership in their learning.  With this generation of tech-savvy, environment caring people, hands-on educational opportunities whenever you can provide them in the classroom will give generation Z experiences they will not only enjoy but will remember.



How to make micro-progressions

What exactly is a “micro-progression?” you may ask.

A micro-progression is a new student advocacy tool my instructional coach picked up from a session at CCIRA. This tool allows students to self-evaluate and improve their written responses in any subject area. Let me explain.

My building is using this tool in Math and Literacy. It can be incorporated into any subject, really.  To start, have students write a short written response to any question you may ask. Give them 5 minutes, or so, to write their responses. Collect.

As a team or grade level, look through your set of written responses. Other team members will do the same. Each classroom teacher then picks their lowest quality written response and their highest quality written response. As a group, look at the lowest response from each group. Determine which response is the lowest. Lay this on the table. Then determine from the group, which is the best quality., This is the other end of the spectrum. Then discuss the other papers in the group, deciding which paper would be the second lowest, the one next to this but a bit better, and so on. Move along the continuum until you have the highest level of writing. You should now have a continuum, or progression of quality writing, or a micro-progression.

Document in writing the lowest paper (score a 0) and copy the response, leaving the name out. Then determine which paper along the line would be a score of a “1”, then a “2”, a “3” and a “4” (or whatever the scoring system is you use).

Write the responses on a document, with the qualifiers for each “level”, clearly defined.

Glue/staple/adhere these onto a long sheet of paper, either vertical or horizontal.

Laminate. Hang in classroom.

Students look at the continuum, when they need to evaluate their writing: where along the continuum do they fall for their first piece of writing? As you continue this, refer them to the micro-progression chart, letting them know they have to improve their written response to the next level up for themselves…for their next written piece. Revise the chart periodically as you see fit and as time dictates another revision.

I have students write a “glow and grow” on their paper: 1 way to improve for the next assignment. and what did they write that was terrific!

This is very powerful!

Here are some photos of students in action at the micro-progression chart. They can’t argue with what constitutes a “4” or a “2” or why they scored a “1”.

img_4078  img_4079

Students are placing their papers up to the micro-progression; determining where they fall.

A wonderful tool and opportunity for students to grow themselves with their accountability!

Happy writing and happy accountability!



Working Together

Working together takes all forms on any given day.

Whether it is learning about Nonrenewable Resources, how to multiply and divide whole numbers using various strategies, or working on the school’s raised garden beds project; students work all over the room, moving things around to suit their needs. Such a rewarding day, to see them busy at work.



Nonrenewable Resources: PBL Experience

My students came into class, ready to act as environmental specialists, researching an oil spill in the Atlantic Ocean and best ways to clean up the oil spill and protect wildlife. They researched the Deep Horizon Oil Spill and worked to clean up their own “oil spills” in small groups. They figured out why oil is a nonrenewable resource and the effects of it, when used correctly and any harmful effects on our environment.

What a learning day!


Project-Based Learning

PBL: Project Based Learning



Project-Based Learning is an educational approach to engage students to solve a real-life problem, placed in the context of a project, that is worked on, managed, and solved by students (with adult guidance), for a period of time.  Whenever I can incorporate PBL and Design-Thinking into my classroom curriculum, I embrace it! I have always been a hands-on real-life learner and it is this belief that I bring into my classroom. I am a teacher. I have been an educator for 31 years and am still going strong. PBL allows me the chance to show students their value and voice in meaningful ways beyond the standard math workbook page or short essay.

Students learn how to empathize with others, problem-solve, collaborate, research, design, interview, create, redefine, and produce an end-project or idea that betters a situation they felt a need to solve.

I currently am organizing and managing three PBL projects in my elementary school.  My classroom is perfect for this type of learning. Move-able furniture and a variety of hands-on materials create the space for students to expand their thinking, getting creative and messy.

Project 1: School gardens

The entire fifth grade (90+ students) are researching, designing, and will soon be fundraising and soliciting materials and funds to build raised garden beds for a school garden. Their working space is 34 ft X 11 ft.

Project 2: Fence beautification

My school is a fine arts school, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the chain-link fence around parts of it. A group of students has decided to take it upon themselves to design and solicit funding and materials to create a portion of the fence into a beautiful display representing our school’s fine and performing arts program. They are developing the design now and will figure out how much of each color webbing they need to create this large mural. They will then solicit funding and materials to create their original work of art. They have secured permission from the building administration and district to do so.


Project 3: School exercise path

A large group of students is interested in bettering the physical health of their school mates and the community. Our intermediate playground borders the local community softball and soccer fields. This group wants to design and build an interactive exercise trail around the playground perimeter.

Project 4: Snacks

Many families in our building (49%) are on free and reduced lunches. Many can’t afford funds for healthy snacks. A handful of students are organizing and soliciting local restaurants and businesses to consider donating to their cause. They have researched the benefits to support their cause, written letters and are gathering electronic means to show their reasons.

Project 5: Science interactive pond

This project will be the most challenging of the four! A pond near my school is the prime location to develop into an interactive Scientific learning laboratory. Students will start in the late winter, to contact the local parks and recreation district, to research, design, gather and build an interactive scientific learning lab for the elementary and the community.

It is through these projects the students have learned and will continue to learn about communication, letter writing, emailing, interviewing, collaboration, math, and science, reading and writing skills. They have experienced roadblocks in some of the projects and have learned how to work around or with them, adjusting their goals and visions. Students have become leaders and learners. They are developing their passion for projects, learning to see through others’ eyes. They have learned patience. They have learned hardships are worth the effort. They have taught me the value of their voice and choice. I am not the leader in these projects: they are. I help and guide them when they are stumped and need some “wiser experience” or someone who knows who they might connect with.

PBL occurs every Wednesday in fifth grade. I have students tell me Wednesdays are their favorite days, as they get to move into my room (for those that don’t have me as their homeroom teacher), work on their projects. I love this too! They don’t realize it but they have PBL in Science and Math too!

Let me share a bit…


We are learning about decimals. I have incorporated marble runs into the learning! Students are developing the SLOWEST and FASTEST marble run, given a set of parameters and tools. They work in triads, developing their best marble run then record their multiple run times, to the nearest hundredth of a second. We are looking for the slowest run time, the fastest time, comparing times, adding and subtracting times, rounding times. They never suspect they are learning!


We are learning about Earth’s nonrenewable and renewable resources, their use in our state and world. We are mapping the amount of water used in our planet, the effectiveness of solar and wind power, the use and effectiveness of fossil fuels. We are designing solar ovens, more effective wind turbines, water drainage systems. We calculate and design, build and test our models. Hands-on learning based on problems we see with our use of energy (even in our building!)

Whatever the topic, PBL and Design Thinking with real-world activities embedded into the learning with state standards and tracking of learning and reflections all make for solid learning and engagement.



Classroom Reflections

This new room comes with many challenges.

  • How to instill the sense of responsibility with new furniture
  • How to keep students engaged with such an inviting atmosphere
  • How to use the room effectively

Students were absolutely amazed and thrilled with their new learning environment! They wondered why every other classroom wasn’t as “cool” as ours! They wondered why they couldn’t move around as freely in other classrooms as they do in my room. They wondered why my room got the “new lighting” when other rooms didn’t.

These presented some new situation I hadn’t thought through entirely.

Flexible seating /high impact learning environments can look different from a traditional classroom (or not). My classroom operates differently in its function and the philosophy behind it. It was my responsibility to help students understand the differences and that it is OK to experience a variety of learning environments. No matter the “look” or function of a classroom, the most important factor was the commitment by the students, in their own learning.

Understanding this, the students and I set about the task of making this room “ours”. We had to decide many things, including:

  • bulletin board space
  • storage for their items, since we no longer have desks (how many drawers inside each storage cubby do they get? Storage for my teacher materials (I minimized to bare essentials, as my teacher desk is gone.) Storage for shared class materials
  • Movement of furniture: anchor piece-large couch-and everything else
  • Common classroom supplies (pencils, markers, paper and such)

We came upon class decisions for these things and more. We set up the room to our likes and moved in! With things out of sight and boards filled up with minimum items (less “visual pollution”, as I call it), the room looked lived in and still attractive and clean. Some of the photos in the previous entry reflect our lived- in space.

NEW FURNITURE: How To Take Care of It

It never fails: Year after year there are spills, marker marks on tables, nicks and dings on furniture, table tops, walls. With so much money invested in my room, I knew this should be prevented at all costs.

I was smart: when the furniture colors and fabrics were selected, bleach-able/wipe-able surfaces were top priority! Disinfectant wipes are my mainstay. Students know they are to tell me if they accidentally make a mark on the table. couch, chair, wall. I can clean up stray marks easily and quickly. Students can relax a bit more and they aren’t damaging the furniture as they did when I had cheaper furniture in my room the previous three years. They take pride and ownership in everything. If they do (and they do!) sit incorrectly on the couch or a chair, they know they have to find a new spot to sit. Everyone respects this. It has only been five months but the room still looks pristine and has that “new furniture” smell to it! I believe this will continue for the entire year and beyond. Top quality furniture, even if it is only a few key pieces, makes for a definite psychological improvement.



I believe, and students will agree, the new learning environment promotes engagement and learning. It may seem, when someone first walks in, students sitting casually or working together at a table, or around the coffee table or TV station, learning isn’t occurring. It is the complete opposite. Walking into my classroom; students own the room. They love sitting in comfortable chairs, knowing the furniture and they will move during the next 60+ minutes. They won’t sit still and listen to me lecturing. They will engage in work, activities, share with each other, develop a product, work on math problems, research a problem for Science, gather as groups to develop a chart or project, and much more.  ALL four corners of the room are what I call “Fair learning game”.  There is no “front” of the room. I sit and work wherever the students and their needs are. I share the same furniture as them. My “teacher desk” is a podium for the laptop, which, with the document camera, is wireless. Even my podium is movable.  Movement + ownership together= student and teacher ownership and engagement.

Simply put: we love coming into this, our classroom, every day. Students still compete for their favorite spots!









First Glimpses

The transformation is complete in my room! New furniture and lights, even a rug!     New laptops for the students, new computer cart, new technology for me as well! We are into our fourth month of school and everything is holding up and looks terrific. I have a homeroom class of 30 students and at times can have 32+ in the room. Still with this many students, it doesn’t feel like 32+.

Come and see!




I am excited to announce new changes coming to my room this academic year!

This will be year three for Flexible Seating, I still teach fifth grade, and love the concept.

With this, I have developed a new mindset as well. This mindset is towards teaching philosophy, classroom management, and student engagement. I plan on sharing this as well.

I was blessed with an opportunity to take Flexible Seating/ High Impact Learning to the next level and that meant the start of many changes! My classroom will be a model classroom for high-impact seating, for my school district.

Let me preference this by saying the process has taken 8 months! Between deep and rich discussions, designing, looking at furniture, colors, measuring, redesigning, changing options, looking at the current use of wall space and changing that as well; has all lead to a new space! It wasn’t easy and at times was quite challenging, to be honest! The sky is what you wish for but not always possible!

Part of my vision included not only the furniture (usually our first thoughts for high-impact learning) but the wall usage and storage as well. I wanted the room to work as a Math and Science focus; that meant even the boards needed to be different. This approach hadn’t been achieved before and was a unique challenge! We aren’t quite where I want it to be and “see it” in my mind, but we will get there!


ALL furniture in my room is being replaced!

ALL wall hangings (boards…) are being replaced!

ALL four walls have been repainted! I have one accent wall: green!

My new classroom colors: blue and green with purple as accent colors (for a pop of color).

These photos show the wall boards and the walls I intend to have them mounted on. You can see a bit of the green accent wall: this wall has windows and looks out into the parking lot. The green will bring in the outside; with the huge trees we have.

The blue and green large boards are glass magnetic bulletin boards. The projection surface is gray instead of white, for the LCD projector. I am varying the height levels and shapes of the boards for a change up as well. I call this “functional wall art”. A new term I am coining! Why not let the wall space become functional as well as visually appealing to look at! Who says all bulletin boards and dry-erase boards have to be white and at the same eye level? Why not make it work for the kids and be fun to look at, at the same time?

I will have the following elements in my classroom:

-A “Genius Bar”     – An interactive technology station     -Flexible and movable furniture

– Places to work individually, in pairs, small groups, or whole class

– Comfortable and varied seating options (low, middle and high)

-Easy access to storage/materials for both teacher and student

-A “minimalist” looking environment. No extra “visual pollution” in the room. Everything is purposeful and student oriented.

-WiFi for me (laptop wireless connected to the doc camera and LCD projector)

-WiFi connections for students (to the LCD projector as well as the interactive tech station, for 5 students, with a large monitor they can wirelessly connect to, to collaborate).

-Specific and purposeful use of color, design, space

I was lucky to redesign the entire room including furniture options, colors, fabrics. This also meant the wall hangings.

I will share more this month (July) and August, as the furniture is scheduled to arrive July 13th! I will take photos of the process and placement of everything. Also to be posted is my ever-changing philosophy of education and how this will look in my classroom

So won’t you come along for the exciting educational ride with me?

If you wish to reach me via another way, I can be reached at my school email: