Kamloops Grade 1 class lets kids learn by choice

Mrs. Sarrasin's Grade 1 class at Parkcrest Elementary.

KAMLOOPS - From choosing their own snack time to using exercise balls as chairs, this Grade 1 class gets the freedom to choose and are happier for it.

Making some their own decisions makes for a happier, more productive classroom, according to Sophia Sarrasin, a Grade 1 teacher at Parkcrest Elementary.

“You choose what is going to work for you. As long as you’re learning and you’re not interrupting anyone else I don’t care what you’re doing,” she says.

Sarrasin’s classroom techniques started as part of a social experiment at the school. Three years ago, the boys in Kindergarten outnumbered the girls almost three to one, putting only four girls in each of the Kindergarten classes.

“I kinda mentioned to our principal at the time… ‘what if we let the girls get to know each other for a year?'” Sarrasin says, adding she was willing to teach an all-boys class and even go outside her comfort zone and modify her teaching techniques. “I was that criss-cross applesauce (teacher), I loved structure.”

The first two weeks she implemented choice-based techniques, it went horribly. By the third week the kids seemed to understand and her class was better for it.

Sarrasin has kept all the strategies she used with her all-boys class that first year to teach her mixed class this year and has even implemented a few more.

Teacher Sophia Sarrasin using the SMART Board to interact with her Grade 1 class.
Teacher Sophia Sarrasin using the SMART Board to interact with her Grade 1 class.

Sarrasin gradually, throughout the course of the school year, allows her students to pick the scenarios in which they learn best. Not only does she allow her students to eat whenever they’re hungry, she also allows the students to bounce on a trampoline or up and down on their ball chairs during class.

“They need to move regardless. They’re either going to be doing it in a way that’s annoying, or they’re going to do it in a way that’s positive. If they’re focusing so much on sitting still and staring at you, they’re not listening,” she says.

Sarrasin says she will often ask the child on the trampoline questions and if they can answer then she allows them to continue bouncing. She also gives kids the choice to work at a stand-up desk, to play with squishy toys and, eventually, the option to work on a clipboard while lounging on oversized cushions.

Sarrasin implements each choice strictly and slowly. She admits the first few weeks can be 'torture' as kids will test the bounds of every freedom, so she has to be very clear as to what’s expected.

“There are firm rules. If you abuse the ball chairs, then you lose the ball chairs,” she says, adding kicking or bouncing it can lose the privilege of the chair for a student as well.

Once the consequences are understood and the rules followed, then the kids get a new choice. Sarrasin says that likely by February her students will have 'full choice.'

She says they have a program called GoNoodle, which is similar to a Nintendo Wii but has an added educational element. In the game, the students’ character earns points for both exercise and answering questions correctly.

Sarrasin turns the game on after recess and students who choose to participate, can, while other may choose to eat at their desks instead.

“Everyone likes choice. Everyone wants to be in control of their learning.”

Teacher Sophia Sarrasin allows her Grade 1 class to make many of their own decisions, including what to sit on.
Teacher Sophia Sarrasin allows her Grade 1 class to make many of their own decisions, including what to sit on.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dana Reynolds at dreynolds@infonews.ca or call 250-819-6089. To contact an editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

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