Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Developing student 'ownership' in their learning.
'Pathways to Participation' by Harry Shier. Full article in Middle School Review Issue2 November 2006
Harry Shier has worked in Nicaragua for the last five years.Prior to this he worked for 25 years in the formal education system in England. His ideas were originally published 2000 in a respected journal called 'Children and Society '. In this article for MSR he revisits his ideas about developing student ownership in their own learning.
We ought to be thankful for the editor, of the recently published Middle School Review MSR, for tracking down and inviting Harry Shier to contribute to the second edition of their magazine.
Shier believes that young people must be listened to and supported to express their views and that their views ought to be taken into account in all decisions that effect them.
To assist in this Shier has developed his three levels of 'Pathways to Participation' format.
Shier's views are in contrast to most teachers everywhere who, he says , 'give a high priority to maintaining authority', by which he means, 'control over their students'. This is the reason why, he says, 'schools rarely have been in the forefront to promote children and young peoples participation in decision making.' Many teachers have, what he calls , a stereotypical teachers 'mindset' that says, 'the children are here in school like it or not, and it is my job to make them learn.My success is measured in terms of how much I can make them learn - by any means necessary.' In an achievement orientated world this will sound familiar to most teachers.
In contrast the teachers 'mindset', he says, ought to be, 'The children are here because they want to learn...My job is to recognise their desire to learn, and work with them to facilitate their learning to the best of my ability.' 'It is important for teachers to recognise it is not the teaching that's important, it's the learning'. And the learning is students' learning not learning imposed by teachers.
Shier asks if this second scenario is inevitable, ' or is it possible to change it; to give back to the learner the ownership of his or her learning process, and make the teacher-student relationship a functional partnership in which both work together to facilitate, guide and enrich this process?'
Shier believes it is possible to give young people more say in their own education and that this will lead to, 'improvements in both the atmosphere and the learning environment of the school and that positive educational outcomes will follow.'
Shier's Pathway to Participation provides a practical means for teachers to identify the and enhance the level of young children's participation. It allows adults to ask: Where do we stand? Where do we want to get to? What do we need to do to get there? There are five level of participation going from, children are listened to, to children share power and responsibility for decision making. Each level has three stages of commitment. The full diagram is available in the MSR magazine.
The three levels are called : 'openings', 'opportunities' and 'obligations'. The first asks, 'are you ready?' The second asks are you using the ideas? The final ( after a consensus by the staff) establishes an obligation or agreed policy. At this final stage all teachers are expected to operate in this way. It becomes, 'the way we do things we do things around here, i.e. part of the school culture'.
At each level a simple question is asked at the 'opening' stage, the answer gives the teachers present position, or practice, and easily identifies the next step (the 'opportunity').The final (the 'obligation') locks the practice in.
In reality, Shier writes, 'teachers are more likely to deny students developmentally appropriate degrees of responsibility rather than force responsibility on them'. As with any innovation the process and the outcomes should be monitored so that adjustments can be made.
Shier is convinced, and I agree with him, 'that it is almost always beneficial to increase the level of student participation, provided the people are prepared for change, ( and it is vital that students are also prepared for change) and the changes well planned and implemented.'
Innovative businesses have long realised the potential of empowering their workers. It is time that schools realised this power of participation as well
Harry Shiers site: http://www.cesesma.org/