Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Why Can’t Kids Be Responsible For Their Own Learning?

“Wow, young lady, you’ve really put me in a hard place!”  I told one of my kids this morning in math class.  You see, we’re trying hard to get kids to do their homework (and all work) in their math journals, so we asked them to practice a few factor trees in their journals for homework last night.  That, of course, meant they had to remember to take them home, do it, then bring them back.  And, up to this point, we’ve been very forgiving of kids who haven’t come to class quite prepared, so today was our day of “cracking down”–we had made a big deal of how important it was to be ready so we could all move on and that we were giving points for procedures as well as work today.

So, I asked them to open their journals to their factor trees from last night and show it to a buddy and get some feedback.  (This is a strategy my collab teacher and I often use for checking to make sure something was done and each kid getting quick feedback. We watch as kids share with one another and listen for big discussions where disagreement may be occurring or a long explanation may be needed, so we can step in if necessary.)  But,  this morning K turned to me immediately and said, “I don’t have a factor tree–I was too busy last night working on my multiplication tables.”  I said, “What?  Why were you working on those instead of doing the homework?”  (I figured maybe someone at home had given her a different task.)  Her response? “Well, I knew I needed to work on my facts, so I thought I should probably spend some time doing that so I’d be better at factor trees today.”

That’s when I told her she’d put me in a hard place. The kids heard me and it got pretty quiet as everyone watched to see what would happen. This was an amazing opportunity to both give a life lesson and teach them we were not ogre teachers.

I told the kids that most educators’ basic goal in working with them was to help them to be lifelong learners, because we–teachers or parents–wouldn’t always be there and our hope was that they would be independent learners, taking responsibility for their own learning.  My collab teacher added that we wanted to see self-directed learning, questioning and sharing, and that personal decisions had to be based on one’s own knowledge of themselves as learners. “So”, I said, “Let’s talk about what K did last night.”  Was she an independent learner? Yes!  Did she take responsibility for her own learning? Yes! Was it self-directed learning?  Yes!  Was it based on her own knowledge of herself and what she needed as a learner?  Yes!

So how can I be upset she didn’t do what I had given her to do?  She’s meeting the goals I said educators have for her.

I ask again, in a slightly different way, with you, the reader, looking through a slightly different lens perhaps–

Why can’t we allow students to be responsible for their own learning?

Well, we did, for K today.  She absolutely got that check for homework!

Why do we have to be the ones dictating homework?  Why do we set the tasks?  Why don’t kids get a chance to say what they think they need to practice or reinforce?

Well, they will in our class.  How about yours?



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5 thoughts on “Why Can’t Kids Be Responsible For Their Own Learning?

  1. Hi Paula

    I like this!
    For an interesting read, see posts by Richard Black, an Aussie PYP teacher who switched from homework to home learning See what you think 🙂

  2. A Parent on said:

    I feel that teachers should have the ability to give homework that help students practice or extend what they are learning in class, especially when it comes to work that otherwise would not be chosen by some children. For example, memorizing multiplication tables is tedious and boring for some students, but it is necessary if they are expected to do certain mathematical operations easily without a calculator. It seems quite reasonable to require kids to do the memorization at home, using whatever method they choose, and on a schedule.

    However, children should absolutely be given a say whenever practical. Otherwise they can waste time doing work that may even drain them of their natural enthusiasm for the subject. For example, my daughter is an avid reader who typically reads an hour a day, well above grade level, yet is being asked to keep a very detailed reading log to build reading “endurance.” She understandably resists, because she is no longer supposed to just sit down, pick up a book, read as much as she wants, then set it aside. There is now an involved procedure, and my spouse and I must hassle her to do it. Reading now has a price to be paid. As my daughter likes to sneak in reading every chance she gets, amounting to several sessions a day, we are concerned that requiring her to log every time she reads will eventually deter her from doing it, so we have asked to just log once a day. So while her logged reading is accurate, it is incomplete, which makes it seem even more meaningless.

    It seems we are far from trusting kids to be responsible for their own learning, though, when the assumption is they are not even responsible enough to tell the truth about work they have completed. Back to the reading log, my child must have hers signed by a parent each day to verify its veracity. Why? She is an honest person and has never given a teacher reason to believe she would lie – this requirement is insulting to her. Maybe other students are dishonest on their logs, and that is a problem, but maybe the problem is self-created in that children are being asked to complete a daily task that is tedious and annoying, without a benefit that they see as worth the cost. Maybe, if the kids had been included in deciding how to show they were reading regularly, they would have gone with the honor system and allowed individuals to make their own choice about whether to verbally describe their book to peers at school, or draw a picture of any exciting part of the story, or blog a review, which allows them to share in the excitement of what they are reading in a way that they choose and that truly engages them.

  3. I totally agree that showing that one has read should be done actively. I want my kids to talk books all the time, and share their books in many ways. I’m sorry for the reading log woes you’re having. I have had MANY good readers feel exactly the same way.

    And, yeah, the multiplication tables might be boring and tedious to memorize, but they are a stepping point to bigger mathematical thinking and a necessary part of learning, as you said. I was really impressed K got that and so thought to practice something she knew she needed rather than something she needs that skill for!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Pingback: We Want Them to Wonder | Amplifying Minds

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