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:


Anonymous said...

There is a lot of talk about involving students in their own learning and the need for them to participate in making decisions that effect them - but most of it does not get above the level rhetoric. One thing schools aren't and thats democratic!

Harry Shier's ideas would help!

Anonymous said...

Good to see that you are still working away at education process. As you keep on pointing out secondary systems are old and seem outmoded, but for all that, the students can still choose to work the system for themselves. The system has almost endless courses and oportunities, but has been bogged down by endless paperwork risk analysis and the expectations of parents and teachers. We have lost the necessary connections between community and teachers and the system. The large secondary schools are in actual fact medium sized towns with the associated problems of towns or communities that lack the abiltiy to network or jointly share responsibilty for the outcomes. I mean "share" in terms of equal power status. Anyway,perhaps the reason for student failure is more associated with teenage brain development rather than the system? Recent research has confirmed what parents have known for EVER! that teenage brains insist that they are mature and reasonable, but in actual fact the the essence? of the human brain which moderates, decides and puts into place the best course of action to met our needs is still maturing. Perhaps when the students, parents and the school realize this progress will be better!!!!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I agree that there are choices for students to make in the current secondary system - but the limitations imposed by the system means there are still too many frustrated students who leave with their dream killed and their love of learning damaged.

The research on brain development suggests that different developmentally appropriate pedagogical approaches need to be in place for the various levels of learning ( Early Childhood, Primary, Middle School, and High School), all buiding on one another. The system is more out of 'sync' with brain development the older the students get.

As for sharing power with the community that is all very well but it is sharing with the learners themselves that is the real issue - it is their future. The moves towards 'personalised learning' ('customizing' the curriculum around the needs of the learner) are a step in the right direction in this respect.

I am happy for you that you , along with other parents, 'understand' that teenage brains are different. I wouldn't say 'understand' - more that parents just don't understand how their children think! All accelerator and no brakes; the role of education, for the young adolescent, is to retain the spirit but in the process help them to understand to use their brakes when appropriate. To do this they need creative challenges, working in teams, trying out their skills, rather than fragmented subjects, working alone, to the sound of the bell, or their teachers voices.

Anonymous said...

Many teacheras come to teaching with idealistic views but, all too soon, many of them are adopt a control and authority mode forced on them by the behaviour of some of their students ( and other teachers). Because it is hard to build up positive relationships when you are forever changing classes they then 'evolve' into the 'mindset' you mention in the blog.

Unknown said...

may I suggest that if the system was more 'in tune' with the brain teen or otherwise then the debate about failing students would non existent.
Can you think of any other time in your life when there's 30 people learning the same thing the same way and everyone expected to have the same learning? Real choice comes down to relationships and trust. Yes it can be 'messy' at times but human beings are. An added bonus, you actually begin teaching instead of managing behaviour:-)Take a deep breath, surround yourself with positive mindsets and make that first small change-it is worth it.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Couldn't agree more Matthew. What you say fits in well with the concept of 'personalised' learning and how the brain 'works'.