At Hewitt, teachers are inspired by research on how girls learn best and what they need to thrive. Hewitt faculty recognize that research has shown that girls who are engaged in their learning at school are better prepared to engage with the wider world. In Teaching Girls: How Teachers and Parents Can Reach Their Brains and Hearts, authors Peter Kuriloff, Shannon Andrus, and Charlotte Jacobs name choice as an integral component of engaging classroom activities and lessons. The authors state that “...giving girls choice around the topics they study as well as in the ways they can execute assignments fosters their sense of ownership.”
Building on this principle that girls learn best when they have voice and choice in their classrooms, Hewitt teachers begin each school year by involving their students in a variety of activities that set the tone for how they will live and learn in their classrooms all year. Whether creating class norms and agreements, developing routines and structures, or sharing ways to greet one another at morning meeting, Hewitt girls feel ownership and responsibility in their classrooms.
This September, second graders brought their own brains and hearts to the work of setting up and organizing their classroom libraries. During the first few days of school the girls explored their libraries with excitement, their curiosity and enthusiasm contagious. Collaboratively, they began to investigate bins of books, having conversations about what types of books were in each and what they noticed about the books they were reading. They began to share their own discoveries and opinions about how books should be organized in order to be more accessible to the second grade readers who inhabit the room. Throughout these conversations about literature, students discovered common interests that set the tone for a community of readers sharing a space and love of books.
Throughout their shared inquiry, the students worked to make their classroom libraries their own, and as a result have been invested in everything from library upkeep to sharing newly discovered reading choices. When asked what she thought about being a part of the decision-making process of setting up her class library, one second grader shared with enthusiasm, “I really feel like it was a lot of responsibility and it felt really good. Our teacher was trusting us with our classroom and that really made me feel like I was already in fourth grade. It made me feel responsible.”
After watching her students engage in this process, second grade teacher Julie Jin said, “It has been special for students to watch our collection of books transform into a personalized library of their own. Our library even has a student-made sign with a hand-drawn picture of a student saying, ‘I love books!’” The second grade classroom libraries are just one example of how, when we invite girls into the process of creating their classroom, when we listen to their ideas and put them into action, students develop agency and ownership over their learning.