Post submitted by guest blogger Adam Fletcher, student voice expert and author of Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Follow Fletcher on Twitter and listen to him discuss how student engagement can improve schools and communities on the Whole Child Podcast.
Talking about college, careers, and the workplace can be anathema for students. Whether due to the developmental irrelevance of time, socioeconomic factors, or conditioned apathy, many young people view "The Future" with apparent indifference, seemingly finding it irrelevant to their present. The dilemmas with this reality are myriad, primarily because today schools are inherently future-oriented. The essential challenge here seems to be, "How can The Future be materially relevant for people for whom The Future is developmentally irrelevant?"
As adults, we impose solutions to this challenge according to our own perspectives: Technology integration, project-based learning, and service learning all have loud choruses booming about their relevance in future-teaching. STEM-centric educators pull for their focuses as being the most significant for students. Some educators still believe testing and other forms of standardization are the only way to teach The Future. However, as we know from the continuous pendulum swing of educational trends, all of these do little to jostle the seeming indifference of students toward The Future.
Over the last decade I have been working in communities around the world focused on what Ruthanne Kurth-Schai called "reconceptualizing the roles of young people throughout society." In this capacity I have worked with educators, administrators, support staff, and students in hundreds of educational settings, both in school and out of school, to help students determine the meaning of education for themselves.
Repeatedly I have heard students describe how they arrive to an obtuse, confusing notion of what the purpose of schools is every time they enter the building. Rather than address their confusion, well-meaning adults routinely employ the means of schooling without identifying the ends; worst still, teachers, administrators, and political leaders seem to mix the means and the ends. Students receive testing and curriculum, classroom management and extracurricular activities without ever exploring why these things should matter to them.
I propose that rather than impose meaning on students, adults in schools make meaning with students. Research in developmental psychology has shown us clearly that young people of all ages have the capacity to develop sophisticated understandings of the educational undertakings they participate in. Unfortunately, policy and practice in schools today have not kept up with that research.
In 2005, I wrote a number of publications about meaningful student involvement with the intention of defining a series of frameworks schools can use to promote this deepening of student understanding. Ultimately proposing that schools reconceptualize the roles of students by positioning them as coleaders, coteachers, and colearners, my research for the series showed me that this work is already well under way in a few select educational environments across the country. What I found were K–12 classrooms, educational agencies, and community groups that engage students in making meaning in education. These students are learning to find the meaning in The Future by defining the purpose of schools and partnering with adults to change those places to meet their expectations.
Since then I have worked with hundreds more schools, districts, and state agencies. I have found many good practices, policies, and methodologies to support meaningful student involvement. Download a free module on engaging students as teachers from the new SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum to get students lit up about learning about learning, learning about teaching, and teaching each other.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned about teaching students about The Future is the key to defining why careers, college, and the workplace should matter to students: because students themselves decide it does. Letting learners name their motivation every single time they join a class, do a project, or complete a test and determine how their learning styles need to be met, which teachers can help them learn most effectively, helps them strengthen their conception and understanding of The Future. A growing number of educators are working to embrace this challenge, and in doing this, schools are building meaning into learning and instilling a lifelong love of education into every student. This is welcoming The Future, today.