Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Who is in the driver's seat?

Remember a couple of posts back that this started with that uncomfortable feeling that happens that pushes us into change? It's like we need the satisfaction of solving our own problems. As an aside, I don't think that this innate desire to solve our own problems is lost on our current generation of youngsters either. Older people complain that kids of today are lazy, apathetic, and want everything handed to them on a silver platter. I disagree.

Young people just have different priorities, and it is the divide in priorities that creates the alienation. Older people point out that even though kids value video games, they will go online to cheat to get to the next level. The thing is kids don't see this kind of "cheating" as amoral; in fact, they are appealing to a community of users to help them out so that they can get on with things and maximize their enjoyment of the game. In their own minds, the youngsters are still solving the problem because they are using a solution strategy they think is the most effective at the time: asking for help. And it is the act of asking that puts them in the driver's seat.

I remember talking to a grad student about classroom design.  She was saying that she was going to let the students call the shots entirely.  I am all for giving students a voice, but I don't know if I want to give kids total say over the classroom.  I remember when students brought in pillows in my class and laid on the floor.  The problem was school became about laying on the floor and not about how laying on the floor might help you learn.  And that was my fault for not making the connection for them. 

But you see?  There it is: the school experience is filtered through me.  I'm not at odds with that, but I do have to keep it in mind when I am thinking things through.  I see my role as the teacher that I am responsible for setting up the circumstances for how kids learn.  As much as possible, I include students in the decisions, but I still feel the need to give "royal assent." 


  1. Elspeth Anjos9:44 PM

    I call it a benevolent dictatorship! I allow students to make decisions about our classroom through a democratic process. But I have the final say, since I will also take full responsibility for what ever happens.

    1. I don't know if I can call what you do a "dictatorship" (though I understand the point). You really do take your classes through a democratic process. I remember you agreeing to remove tests from your classroom as a result of a classroom meeting. But then, the workload and homework increased as a result because you explained that tests were one way, a relatively efficient way, of assessing your students' learning. I can't think of a lot of dictatorships that would have such clear consequences and presented as such a methodical learning opportunity. You may take on the responsibility of what ever happens but I think really that responsibility is shared. And learned.

  2. Another way to put it is that we are the mediators to understanding (from Vygotsky). We allow them freedom with a framed context. This is why I say that I don't believe in student-centered learning. Don't get me wrong, I have my students as a focus, but they are not dictating what we learn. My role is very important in bringing concepts to them in specific ways. Then I let them play around with these ideas and collaborate with each other, and I facilitate their work and understanding. Often I find that they can take this in new directions beyond my initial vision.
    I set up my classroom with very specific intentions and my lessons are based in sound pedagogical theory, but I also pay attention to the mix of students I have every year. What are their strengths and needs? I am the one who can figure this out and make this work. Without vision, the people perish!

  3. Yeah, I was initially caught off guard by your post that you don't believe in student-centred learning, ( http://imaginefunlearning.blogspot.ca/2011/12/i-dont-believe-in-student-centered.html ), especially after seeing you in action. But after reading your post, I saw your point of view as a mediator which is a valuable model to keep in mind. It is a delicate balance between child-centredness and exposing children to new ideas and new experiences. Even with Emergent Curriculum, I see the value in starting with students' interests, but also nudging them in new directions, and exposing them to different kinds of thinking even within their interests and areas of early expertise.

    Thanks for your comments, and adding some actual researched pedagogy to some of my posts.