Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Do Students Want?


What is it that students want? I read studies, articles, blogs and tweets. I watch video after video but rarely do I see what it is that students want from their education. We have experts lined up around the world ready to give their opinions but nowhere in there do we hear from the students. And that is a shame.
Over the years I have listened to my students. Sometimes I listened but thought, “I am the teacher. I decide what they will do.”  As I further listened and matured myself, I realized they had some important words to impart.
“Don’t bore me,” is always near the top of the list. When I read through reading assignments and look at the questions I always think they are good questions and need to be answered. But the reality is that students, despite teachers doing everything to engage them, do not see this type of reading useful. “We have to read this stuff that is sometimes interesting but answering the questions is about as boring as it gets.” When asked why they explain they say that the interest level is not there. It is not something they want to learn about so feel that they are being forced to do it. In my experience forcing someone to do something is the same as failure. You have already lost before you start.
“I want to learn about…(insert a topic here).” They have minds that are developing. Before they came to school the students explored their world and followed their interests. When they came to school they were made to learn things they were not interested in or weren’t ready for. When given a choice of topics they learn more and remember more of it because they are interested in it. They are naturally following their own thoughts and ideas.
So why is it that adults think they know what children inherently need in order to develop educationally? It would appear that our view of children as helpless individuals who need extreme amounts of directed learning to succeed in life is the major factor. We do not really see them as people. When I was growing up there was a saying about children. We were, “to be seen and not heard.”  It appears that this idea is still floating around in our world. We need to change this idea. We need to accept the thoughts and feelings of children. They are not all trying to get out of doing work, nor are they all inherently lazy, non-thinking individuals. They have great ideas and become functioning members of a class when given a chance. I saw this during the past year when I switched over to SOLE. Behaviours that were disruptive virtually disappeared. Engagement increased dramatically. Student happiness increased ten fold. Parents were hearing about things the student learned about because the students were interested in what they were learning.
All this was because I believed in giving them choices, allowing them to make decisions and become a partner in their education. They appreciated it.