I know that most classrooms in this country are far too crowded to allow room for any new idea to take off, and yet as an educator I say we must try and find some space both in our classrooms and our minds to allow our children to step up and take ownership of their learning. If we want our students to grow into thoughtful, responsible citizens, we need to make space for their voices to be heard, we need to give them the freedom to choose how they learn. When students get to make decisions about their learning, it can be extremely motivating.
While it is essential to fulfil curriculum demands, it is equally important to provide students with a regular means of exercising some degree of choice in their learning. Teacher directed activities should be reduced to allow children to explore and experiment. Unfortunately, the extremely tight schedule of assessment and testing has ensured that students find it easier to rely on the teacher’s power to control their bodies and minds instead of using their own autonomy to invite learning.
Offering students choices in the school day needn’t be a recipe for chaos. It goes without saying that rules and boundaries are a necessary element in schools, essential in many ways for keeping both children and adults safe and productive throughout the day. But by giving them choice in certain matters, educators can offer students scaffolded opportunities to practice decision-making, explore their academic identity and connect their learning to their interests and passions. It can be a relatively small but consequential mindset shift. Rather than assigning students partners, for example, you can let them choose whether to work alone or with a partner; this acknowledges and respects their humanity and recognizes the fundamental importance of agency.
Planning lessons for the younger classes, this is another way to encourage students to think about how they want to learn. Ask a few senior students to plan a lesson for a junior class. This can be like training for the older students, who can then apply the techniques they are using to teach their younger peers to their own learning. You can set aside an hour or half every day or twice a week to give the older children the time to plan lessons for the younger ones.
When we ask students to stop what they’re doing and do something totally different, something that’s mindful, challenging, something that creates community, something that creates generosity then we as educators are empowering them.
The author is an educator and has deep interest in the integration of lifeskills with literature for a purposeful and peaceful life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org