I have a confession: I may be a bit controlling at times. I like to know what is going on and that things are getting done (correctly!). In my defense, I say that I am just a "rule-follower". When I entered the teaching world, I had no idea that I would need to throw my micro-managing ways out the window (well, at school... home is a different story...it's a work in progress). I learned quickly that I was not the one who should "own" the learning... It needed to be the kids.
When I reflect on my philosophy as an educator, one belief I come to time and again is the importance of teaching all students to own their learning. When creating a classroom environment of independent learners, I have found that it is important to deliberately structure my instruction in a way that helps kids see themselves as learners. I accomplish this by knowing my students well, teaching explicitly, backing off a bit (not acting like a control freak) and trusting the kids to do their job. I do think this requires practice, setting clear expectations, and holding kids accountable. This way of instructing puts pressure on me, the teacher, to have a clear understanding of what my students need to move forward as learners. Above all, it puts pressure on the learner, since I am not going to handhold and do their work for them; instead, my role is to coach them to become problem solvers, thinkers, and inquirers.
Students Must See Themselves as Learners:
If we expect our kids to "own their learning" we need to make sure they see themselves as learners. When students have authentic learning opportunities and can connect importance to the experience they are interacting with, the learning becomes more meaningful. This is why in Writing Workshop, writers should always know who their audience is and why student choice (in books and writing topics) is a must. Learning should always have a purpose. As teachers, it is our responsibility to offer rich learning experiences where students:
- Witness an example of what is being taught (a model) - This needs to be explicit and we can't always make everything look "easy". We should be teaching students not only deliberate reading or writing moves; but we also need to be offering tips and strategies to help readers and writers persevere when they come to trouble. It is important to show our students what it looks like to struggle and how to problem solve.
- Have time to practice with others, as well as independently - Learning is a social act, so it is critical that our kids are able to interact with their learning targets and one another. Students can then see how others are putting the skills and strategies into action. Students also need to feel comfortable trying the learning on their own. For some, this can be a huge, uncomfortable risk. Having visuals from when you modeled can be very helpful when students are reluctant to try something independently. For example, in Reading Workshop, we may have created an anchor chart that provides "thinking stems" to get started. In Writing Workshop, the class shared writing example could be available for students to model their own writing after.
- Are given feedback - The feedback from teachers should be actionable. When conferring with students, we should be able to identify what they are doing well and then offer tips to help them push their work to the next level.
- Set goals - It is important that we teach kids how exactly to do this. When a student sets a goal, it should be reachable within a reasonable amount of time. Students will be more likely to buy into their goals and reflect on their goals when the timeframe is short. Goals need to be specific and should have an action plan to go along with it. (Not: I want to read harder books. I will do this by reading more.). For example, I have had students who love fiction reading, but struggle with nonfiction reading. This student's goal may be: "My goal is to improve my understanding when reading nonfiction. I will do this by selecting a topic I am interested in (ie: Pandas) and use boxes and bullets to categorize my stop and jots in my Reading Response Notebook."
There are so many ways to build students who hold ownership of their learning... Comment and share your ideas :)