Working with the students or on the students?

At the get-go the title sounds like a very simple question about prepositions. But is it? So while reading do not consider this a simple question, nor give a simple, direct answer, but think reflectively.

The dictionary difference between “with” and “on” is very simple and clear. “With” means accompanied by, and “on” would imply without the involvement of the students. Like one would work on an object, to re-create that object in a new form, without much involvement from the object. Do we want our students to be worked on? To be re-created into what we would like them to be? To mould them into what we want them to be?
Where is the value in that?
What happened to empowerment? To fair choice? To taking charge?
What happened to education addressing the personal needs of a student rather than what the teacher or the management thinks the student needs?
Do we think we know the child better than they know themselves?
Let’s step back, let go and empower our students to take charge of their own learning. Here are some strategies that can be implemented in our classrooms, classrooms that are focused on the students, or as we say, are student-centered.

  1. Choice:
    The teacher’s role should be to set expectations, guidelines and deadlines. Beyond that students should be offered a choice. An option to choose their end-products, their goals. They should have the choice of medium of delivery of the end goal, they should have a choice of materials and resources they use in their learning. They should be able to not only choose the experience they want to have but also be responsible for the outcome. Will there be mistakes? Of course. Learning is never perfect. Actual learning happens when one learns from their mistakes, and our students are no exception to this rule.
  2. Reflection:
    The process of learning is a complicated and lengthy process. It is very important for the students to be able to reflect on their learning, so that they make an informed decision about the next step in their process. That would be called learning empowerment.
  3. Students as teachers:
    To build a learning community, it is very important that we all learn from each other. When students help others to understand a concept, or they lead by example, or they share their strategies, it empowers them and builds their confidence. They become the owners of their knowledge. And in my opinion, there is no better learning then owning one’s knowledge.
  4. Self-assessment:
    What am I today? What am I doing today? What will I be doing tomorrow? What do I want to do tomorrow? How will my today lead to my tomorrow? Students should be encouraged to ask these questions about themselves, and empowered to reflect to find the answers. The next natural step would be to hold them responsible to their commitments to themselves, but they should also be given the flexibility to mould their goals along the way.
  5. Student voice:
    Do the students have an opinion? Just ask them, you will be pleasantly surprised. A teacher’s goal should be to give a voice to their students. Let them make decisions in the classroom. Ask for their feedback. Honor their feedback. They are the minds of today and tomorrow. Let them be in-charge of their learning, let them decide the outcome of their learning. Let them figure out how their today will lead into their tomorrow.

We can’t control all of the good and bad things that will happen to our students, but let’s provide them with the tools they need to make their journey more enjoyable. Empower them to turn their successes and failures into opportunities for growth.