Empower Students: 5 Powerful Strategies
Meeting students where they are is key to their social, emotional, and academic success. A piece of this puzzle is to allow them to be empowered in the learning process. We want to ensure that we are teaching the whole child and providing each student a learning experience that meets his personal needs. Who knows the child better than herself? Students are aware of their likes and dislikes, their own opinions, the things that they feel confident with, and the things that challenge them, as well as the dreams they have.
Sometimes we need to step back, let go, and empower our students to take charge of their own learning. The following five strategies will prove to be powerful when utilized with any age.
Choice: Do you allow students to choose the goals they work on each day? Do they choose their materials? What about their resources? Are students allowed to choose the path they take to reach their academic goals, for instance in a project-based learning environment? Do they choose where they sit to experience learning or who they work with?
All of these factors can be crucial to student's learning. Take the time to establish routines and model expectations, but then step back and offer opportunities for students to make choices. Let them be their own guides. Misfortune may ensue, but true learning occurs through mistakes and the correction of them. This is empowering in itself.
Reflection: Are students reflective in their learning moment to moment, or passive? Is time set aside for reflective purposes or pushed to the wayside when time runs short? Is reflection a part of the daily routine?
Students must actively engage in the learning process and reflect on their own personal contributions, knowledge, and connections. They need to be allowed time to process their learning as a step of retention. Reflection allows for closure to a situation, conversation, or lesson, empowering students to make sense of their learning.
Students as Teachers: Do students have opportunities to articulate their knowledge? Are they given the chance to help others understand a concept? Do they get to demonstrate their strategies and assist others with a similar learning style?
By allowing students to teach students we enlarge the learning platform. We suggest to them that there are other experts present in the learning environment. Teaching empowers students to demonstrate and share knowledge, deeping their own understanding.
Self-Assessment: Are students aware of their individual goals? Do they have the ability to assess themselves according to specific criteria? Can they provide effective feedback to others? Are they an integral part of the assessment process?
When given opportunities to self-assess their own progress towards specific goals, students' growth will soar. They can also be given the chance to positively impact others' learning by offering feedback. Peer conversations regarding student work is a powerful thing. Again, it provides the clear message their are other experts in the learning environment. Allowing students to engage in these conversations expands their academic awareness. Students clearly understanding their own strengths and challenges is empowering.
Student Voice: Do you ask the students for their opinion often? Is their voice used to make decisions in the classroom? Do you allow them to provide you feedback? Is their feedback honored?
The most valuable voice in the learning environment is that of the student. They are the consumer of the knowledge and can provide feedback regarding their needs being met. It is important to ask for input on a regular basis regarding structure, routine, systems, rules, responsibilities, etc. Taking their ideas into account for lesson planning/design and instructional strategies can also prove beneficial. You never know the possibilities unless you ask. Seek out their voice, you may be surprised. Honoring their ideas builds trust and empowers them to think critically.
These strategies can be integrated into any classroom, as they are all simply built upon conversations. Empowering learners begins with discussion and the building of a student learning community. Students and teachers working together creates a powerful learning environment that fosters the success of all. We want our students to be engaged, challenged, and supported everyday they are with us. Empowering our students to take charge of their learning opens doors in all directions.
Celina Brennan is a 3/4/5 multiage teacher at Salnave Elementary School in the Cheney (Wash.) Public Schools district and recipient of Washington State ASCD's 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Award. She is a district leader in literacy and has opened her classroom to educators as a model of differentiated instruction that meets the social, emotional, and academic needs of all learners. Connect with Brennan on the ASCD EDge® social network and on her blog, written with her teaching partner Ann Ottmar.