So often our students are left feeling helpless. This can lead to a power struggle in the classroom that means engagement goes down and disrespect, in both directions, goes up. By empowering out students to take control of their own learning we are showing them that they are an important part of the classroom. The balance is tough though, because we want to maintain control over our classrooms all while watching out to make sure that our students have a safe place to experiment and grow their blossoming personalities.
In this post there are five ideas for how to give students a little power to have choices in their learning, and therefor help them to grow as individuals.
Hear Them Out
Sometimes it is all too easy to move forward with a plan without hearing how a student feels about it. This is especially prone to happening when we think, and we usually do, we know what the student is going to say.
Instead of cutting the student off, hear them out. Then show them that you were listening by validating them with a phrase such as, "I am hearing that you feel ____ because_____." This can also be a great segue into explaining your thoughts on the matter.
Just by hearing a student out, they feel that they have a little more control in the situation.
This Then That
This is a very simple idea to institute, and is often known as Grandma's rule, because you come out smelling like a sweet rose.
It is very simple. You just state that, "First this needs to be done, then you can do that."
This principle works extraordinarily well with students that have a tough time with completing assignments because they would rather do something else. For example, I had a student that just LOVED to read. He would often try to read all day long instead of just about anything else. Sounds like a dream, until you took a look at his unfinished work. I would simply tell him that first the assignment needed to be completed and then he could read. Knowing that he got to do what he wanted to, namely read, as soon as he completed his work gave him the extra umph he needed to get through the assignment.
Put It In Writing
Some people just need to see it spelled out for them. This is where a contract can come in handy. This can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be, but the important thing is to include the student in its creation. If you try to come up with a plan and then present it to the student without their input, it is likely to backfire.
My favorite for of contract for the average student was a sticky note contract with very simple statements that they could keep on their desk. I would ask the student what they wanted, and I would tell them my expectations. We would come to an agreement, record it on the sticky note, and then both sign it. Then the student would keep it on their desk. If either of us wasn't holding up our end of the bargain, the other could just point to the sticky to remind the other. this makes for GREAT nonverbal reminders.
Language of Choice
Another really simple idea that you are probably already doing! This one is simply giving students a choice of doing this or that. The trick is to structure the choices so that the student is meeting expectation no matter what they choose.
Would you like to write in pen or pencil?
Would you like to complete this assignment on your own or can I help you get started?
Would you like to do your reading or writing first?
This way, students get the power to make the choice and save face if they have worked themselves up, but they are also meeting the classroom expectations.
Acknowledge Student Power
Sometimes just acknowledging that students do hold the power to make their own choices is enough to get them out of a funk.
This might sound something like, "I can't make you," followed by then clarifying the consequences. this helps students to maintain a sense of control over their own choices, but also allows them to see the logic of a situation.
Want More Information?
This following are a list of books (affiliate links) that I have found to be helpful when working with students in the classroom.