A Bulletin Board that Empowers Students to Help Each Other

One of the best pieces of advice I got as a young teacher was never do something for a student that they can do for themselves. This is not to say that we teachers shouldn’t be courteous and respectful – go ahead and hold a door or pick up a dropped pencil - but when it comes to things like classroom procedures, reading directions, or working with content, students should be the ones putting in the effort.

As a seventh-grade teacher, I create many scaffolds to help students find success. There are schedules to help students plan and reflect upon their class time and activity lists that provide them with different pathways to achieve growth. They allow students to make their own learning decisions rather than relying on me to make decisions for them.

However, for years, one scaffold in my classroom has remained far too teacher-centric for my liking. In an effort to help promote student autonomy, I have produced dozens of “How-To” guides. These one-page guides cover everything from Chromebook keyboard shortcuts to framing a counterargument.

While some students have used them, the guides have never really achieved their aims; I still end up spending time explaining the same procedures to students who, for whatever reason, don’t feel compelled to use the pre-prepared helps.

This year I opted to overhaul the role of “How-To” guides in my classroom. Rather than making them for the students myself, I am encouraging my students to take ownership over the process. One month in, the results are already better than I ever expected!

The Help Wanted Board

The first step was creating a way for students to get involved with the resource-making process. I designated a large bulletin board in my room as the Help Wanted Board. From there, I used a large piece of chart paper to create an initial list of five resources I needed to have created.

My initial list included:

  • A classroom folder setup guide for new students
  • Useful Chromebook keyboard shortcuts
  • How to plug in a Chromebook
  • How to submit work with Google Classroom
  • How to create stronger weekly reflections with SeeSaw

Once created, each student-created resource would be pinned to the board so other students could borrow and use them.

Rather than forcing students to engage with my new initiative, I added “Create Help Wanted Board guides” to my students’ weekly activity lists as an ongoing, optional task for them to complete at their leisure.

The hope was that the board would encourage students to take ownership of the resource creation process, share their knowledge, and help each other. In order for it to work, I needed to get the students on board.

Promoting Student Buy-In

Getting middle school students to want to do something they aren’t required to do can be a tricky proposition. Teachers need to find ways to create authentic ways to get students to buy-in; my Help Wanted Board was no exception.

After taking a few minutes to explain my vision for the board, I set the hook: every time a student took down and used a resource, they would record the date, a helpfulness score (ranging from 1-3), and an optional review on the back. At any point, students have the opportunity to rework or revamp their guides based upon their peer feedback to try to improve them.

At the end of the term I would tally up the positive reviews and offer extra credit for the creators’ efforts. The best guides would be featured in the “Help Wanted Hall of Fame” and become permanent features on the board.

I banked on this combination of peer feedback and recognition of a job well done to help bring the project to life.

The Results So Far

One month in, every item on my initial “Help Wanted” list has been created. More importantly, every resource has been used.

Creators often stop by the board on their way in or out of class to see how often their guides are used. One student team has even updated their Chromebook shortcuts guide to “Version 2.0” based upon peer feedback.

In a matter of weeks, the Help Wanted Board has been able to create more student autonomy than my teacher-made guides have ever been able to achieve. Students are helping each other willingly and asynchronously with their resources made by and for kids.

This week my new list of Help Wanted requests has gone up and students are already contemplating their creations. This time, alongside my list is a blank sheet where students can request guides from other students. After only one day, there are two student requests for materials I have never considered making.

With little more than a blank bulletin board, some paper, and some pushpins, my students are doing for themselves what I once mistakenly believed I had to do for them; what’s more, they’re doing it better and learning from the process.

Sheldon Soper is a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the field of education. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings and on his blog.