In a previous post, Students’ Voice and Choice, I discussed the importance of giving students choice and I have also tried to emphasize the importance of creating a safe environment in which students feel respected, valued and able to take risks. Teachers all want this ideal in their classrooms. However, sometimes it happens by accident because of the caring people we are, and not as a collection of conscious choices we make to ensure our students feel confident and valued as a participant in their own learning. Students need to be able to make choices about their learning, and they need to be able to voice their preferences and views. Teachers need to learn to listen and trust those voices so that learning is a truly collaborative journey.
Think about your own classroom. Is your entire year planned out already? Is it the same plan as last year? However loosely we plan things in order to be flexible, how much input do we really allow students?
I think taking students’ input seriously is a mind shift we have to go through. I can tell you that this was, and is, an area of constant growth and learning for me. Every year, I am able to create an environment of collaboration earlier and earlier in the school year, because it is something I embrace with more passion and regularity each year.
Last year, I was starting a new course with access to new curriculum I was set to adopt earlier than required. The kickoff was less than stellar. While I struggled with creating new ways to present information, I fell back on some work sheets which students filled out while I lectured. After the second day in a row like this, one of my students called me out. Are we going to do this entire unit by doing worksheets? When are we going to do something? Suitably chastised, I came back the next day with a plan to have the students take the lead by not only using inquiry and approaching the content from different access points, but by teaching each other what they learn and choosing areas of focus they were most interested. The result was that we built our capacity together and learned with, and from each other.
What was interesting about this exchange was that the student was not trying to challenge me or my teaching. She was backed up by her classmates, and they were honestly curious, and probably disappointed, about the direction their learning was taking, and they didn’t like it. I might have taken this as a personal challenge, but instead I was honest with myself and acknowledged that the students were right. And it’s not about me; it’s about them. They thrived under a completely different process- not as passive sponges, but active participants in their learning. I think great things came from this exchange and I believe that’s because students knew they had a voice, and were confident that they were allowed to use it.
Photo Credit: Bus Routs by KOMUnews; CC BY license via flickr