‘Teacher for a Day’ Energizes Students

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I wiggle in my desk chair, softly swiveling it ever so gently back and forth, and fidget with my pen. I am a student in my own classroom.

At the front of the room stands a teacher in my place. To outside observers the girl dressed in flip flops and jeans pointing at things projected to the white board could not possibly be in charge—if anything they might mistake her as an unruly student who escaped from the confines of her desk.

However, to both me and my students, Josie is the teacher and she is leading a discussion on an article from Upfront magazine that discusses the impact of energy resources. Like my students, I listen as Josie presents a summary of the article, pointing out important facts and explaining significant vocabulary.

When the open discourse begins, hands jut into the air as new ideas arise in students’ minds. Students cite past articles, real life experiences, television programs and personal views to debate the way we extract and use energy resources in the United States. At the culmination of the discussion, Josie reveals her final thoughts on the topic.

This situation is not an anomaly. Instead, it is a regular part of our classroom that I dubbed “Teacher for a Day.”

I developed the concept by combining the strategy of reciprocal teaching with a teaching tool, the Reading Response Window,a graphic organizer that requires students to record and present information about an assigned text.

The response window requires students to provide the following information about their assigned section of reading: four facts from the text, three essential vocabulary words, one sketch to remember, two lingering questions and a statement of their new thinking about the topic.

When participating as Teacher for a Day, students come to class prepared to use the Reading Response Window as their guide for teaching their classmates.

Students project the information they’ve gathered and then begin by summarizing the piece of literature they are presenting. Once their classmates understand the main idea of the text, students use the visuals, questions and opinions they have organized to lead the class in a discussion similar to how a classroom teacher would lead a discussion. 

While I originally designed “Teacher for a Day” to simply create good conversations in language arts class, I quickly found it promotes thoughtful literacy discussions for various pieces of literature. Literacy researcher Richard Allington has said thoughtful literacy occurs when we openly talk about literature rather than using questions with obvious answers. Allington says in these discussions the participants are more likely to make connections to other texts, world events and personal experiences. They also evaluate the author’s purpose.

Teacher for a Day is a strategy that can be adapted to texts in all subject areas, while still emphasizing student voice. However, we must remember when we provide this opportunity to students we also bequeath them with the responsibility of all educators—creating a learning environment that reveres the multiple roads of knowledge and constructing bridges amongst them through compassionate classroom discourse.  

Yahn is a middle school language arts teacher in Ohio.