I don’t know about you but preparing for the fall is starting to feel a lot like gearing up for the Normandy invasion. We’re making plans, and backup plans, and emergency backup plans. We’ve created cutting-edge flex PD and project-based lessons designed to work in any environment. Teachers are sharing advice over social media, and everyone is watching their news feeds for new information to dissect. Every possible resource has been brought to bear for this moment.
Well, every possible resource except one. It’s strange to say, but most of our preparations make little reference to students themselves. We’re trying to make lessons for them or discover new ways to teach them, but we’re not making them a resource in their own learning. Perhaps it’s time we considered this possibility. The fall semester will force everyone to adapt, and our students will be no exception.
Learning Side by Side
The way to turn your student into an educational resource is by giving them command of their own learning. It might sound reckless, but as a recent blog from TeachThought demonstrates, allowing students to assume control of their education can give them the tools they need to thrive. Jenna Smith writes,
“As educators, the idea of giving students control can seem like a crazy move, but it actually gives them ownership in their learning. Relinquishing control in some areas of the classroom makes students more receptive to instruction, keeps them engaged in what they’re learning, and makes them more willing to take on challenges.”
The key, of course, is to give students just enough responsibility so things don’t descend into chaos. So, where can you safely provide your students with a little wiggle room? Here a just five strategies to consider:
Strategies for Student Ownership
- Flexibility in Homework: Giving your students a little freedom in how they study can do wonders for engagement. For example, if they’re learning vocabulary words, you can have them create a crossword puzzle using 10 of the words they’ve been studying. Once they’ve created their puzzle, have them swap with another student! In science, have them choose one of the periodic elements and give a creative presentation on it. It could be a song, a video, or even a diorama. The homework still allows them to learn, but they get to decide how they approach it. Choice boards are an excellent way to increase student agency. Here is a template to get started
- Reflection Journals: John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Give your students a reflection journal and let them spend a few minutes each day reflecting on their questions, wonderings, and observations. A reflection journal can also help them keep track of their goals for the year. By simply giving them time with their thoughts, you can strengthen their retention and observation skills.
- Purposeful Diversions: It’s important that we educators recognize the difference between a diversion and a distraction. A diversion is, “an act or instance of diverting from a course, activity, or use.” It’s a momentary side-track, a purposeful change in direction. A distraction on the other hand is “something that makes it hard to pay attention.” A purposeful diversion such as a quick walk, discussion groups, or change of scenery can help refresh students when they’re feeling bogged down. So, allow them to take a brain break now and then.
- Project-Based Learning: Project-based learning is an excellent option for most classrooms because it encourages students to come up with their own ideas and invest in their own work. In the Blue Apple project, The Dirty Truth, students must choose if they would rather create a human colony on Mars or stay behind on Earth to protect the environment. Once they’ve made their choice, they’ll work in teams to create thoughtful, informative commercials to convince others to join their cause. Projects like these aren’t just fun, they give students a purpose to work towards while enacting meaningful change!
- Student-Created Rules: Instead of laying down the law on the first day of class, work with students to create an agreed upon set of rules for the whole classroom over the first couple weeks of school. Giving them a voice in this arena will strengthen their cooperation and make the rules more personal, since they were the ones who created them. Most importantly, it makes them responsible for their actions in the classroom. They made the rules and they’ll need to accept the consequences if they break them.
Just as battles are won by soldiers, education can only be received by students. We need to make them a part of our plans for the coming year. Once we help them find their direction, there is no challenge they can’t overcome. So, let go of the controls for a moment and allow them to take on some responsibility. Who knows? This may be exactly what our new classrooms need.