Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Listen to your students voices.
Do we spend too much time trying to put into practice ideas imposed from above?
What do your students think about their 'schooling'?
For fifteen years schools have been bombarded with half baked managerial ideas from the business world and, at the same time, Ministry technocrats have imposed some of the most complicated and incoherent curriculums we have ever seen. As a result teachers have spent far too much time worrying about complying with such demands that they have lost their focus on the very ideals they entered teaching with – to help all children realize their potential.
‘Times they are a changing’, as Bob Dylan wrote, and today the Ministry technocrats have lost their authority, and their managerial ideas, and the standardized curriculum they imposed, are looking very much like the Emperors clothes.
Paradoxically while schools have become self centred and competitive innovative businesses are 're –imagining' themselves as ‘learning organizations’ aligned behind shared beliefs. As such they listen to what their customers want, or feel, and encourage and trust those who work for them to use their initiative and creativity to provide a personalized service.
It is now time for school and teachers to listen to the voices of our students. We have had enough of distant experts calling the tune – the real connoisseurs of education are our students.
At the end of the year would be great chance to capture their views as part of an end of year school review.
You could start by listing all the various learning area, including specific aspects, and simply get the students to mark them on a 1 to 10 scale (with 1 being ‘who cares’ and 10 ‘love it’). When students leave your class the most important things they take with them are their attitudes – you may find you have won several battles but lost the war! They might be able to do maths but still dislike it! What ever, you will gain insights for next year.
What do they think maths is, or science, or art, or reading? Hopefully they will reflect the ‘big ideas’ behind each learning area – or will they reflect the usual stereotypes? Students often can’t see the wood for the trees – but this is not their fault.
You could also ask them:
1. What was the best thing(s) about this year – and why?
2. What would they like to have done more of – or less?
3. What didn’t they do that they would have liked to?
4. What ways do they feel they have changed this year – and why? What areas have they improved in – and why?
5. What do they think you should change about your teaching – and why?
6. What advice would they give to the students entering your class next year?
The most important thing learners hold are the metaphors about how they see themselves, their teachers and their schools. A good idea is to ask them to complete the following phrase:
A school is a place where ……..
A teacher is a person who…….
A student is a person who……………
The answers will reflect the 'big ideas' that students hold – their views may surprise you.
All the above could be developed as an interdisciplinary class project to end the year.
Such ideas would also be an ideal activity to do in the first week of next year. Then you would be able to see, at the end of the year, how much the experiences of being in your class really means to your students.
You might even change how you view your students – you are ‘selling’ ideas about the ‘joy of learning’ but perhaps no one is buying it! We could learn off innovative businesses.