Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Defense of Student-Directed Learning

Recently, I was in a training session where we observed a lesson. Once it was over, we were led into a group discussion about what we had observed. Immediately negative comments were made placing the blame solely on the students. As the negativity escalated, I knew I needed to speak up. I also knew how they would react, but I jumped into those shark infested waters anyway.

Even though many of our children have no support system at home, we can give them the skills to learn at school. If they become invested in what they are learning and they see the relevance, they will WANT to learn and practice what we do in the classroom...even when they aren't in the classroom.Students need to be given the opportunity to explore how each standard we teach relates to their lives. They need to have the guidance from us to find how learning this content will make their lives better. Then, we need to give them the opportunity to explore, design and create something new with what they have learned. If we give them this, they will be self-motivated to learn...not because of some grade or a test, but because they LOVE it.

I know there is plenty of research out there that supports student-directed learning. However, I don't need research to know that this is a valid way of facilitating learning.  I see it every day in my class. I have had students that are exceptional education students, who are so low or such behavior problems, I was told they wouldn't even be able to function within the classroom. My administrator admits to putting the more challenging students in my classroom because "they always make such great gains and reach a level of success that they've never had before." (See Let's Celebrate or When Things Click or  Becoming Techknowledgeable) I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back, but to give examples of how successful this is with students...academically high or low; wealthy or homeless; Asian, Latino, African American, or Caucasian. When you have 10 year olds who don't want to go home at the end of the day or they want to spend their Friday afternoon doing research to prepare for a lesson they are going to teach older students via Skype, you know that it works. (See Students as Teachers). It works because we are giving students the power and responsibility to drive their own learning.

The reason I spoke up was because the students of those teachers were being sold short. Their potential wasn't being explored. That love of learning hadn't been ignited. I hurt for those kids.

Isn't it our responsibility to do whatever we can to meet the needs of our students? We can't afford to waste any time giving them the tools to success. Because when you ultimately think about it, we are only hurting our future selves. These are the kids who will be running the world in a few years. We can't afford to sit on the sidelines and point fingers at the students. Students know how they learn best if they are given the opportunity. They are the SOLUTION.

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