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?