We all want excellent results. Owning this journey towards excellence is a delicate and joyful dance between parents, students and teachers. It involves providing a variety of choices, sharing the learning decisions, coaching through the process and valuing the work done by students.
Author John Spencer, describes himself this way; “I’m a former middle school teacher and current college professor on a quest to transform schools into bastions of creativity and wonder.” Here at Master’s Academy and College we are on the same quest. Even though it is quite unlikely that your children come home talking about school as a “bastion of creativity and wonder”, they will speak about what engaged them in a project, or how much they enjoyed the choices they were given.
Excellence and Inspiration
Achieving top results for excellence in the skills and knowledge needed in the world, and learning experiences that are pleasant and inspiring are two goals in the classroom. The more frequently we can involve students as co-architects, who own and help design their learning experiences, the more likely we will achieve these two aspects: excellent academic results and inspiration to learn more.
Providing students with choice is a step – a significant step – towards letting them own and design learning that is meaningful and personal. Choice matters. Here is another quote from John Spencer, “Choice drives student ownership of their learning. This kick starts empowerment into high gear, and ultimately leads to learning that is intrinsic, powerful, and deep” (Empower, p. 39). Humans love having choices! Choices give us a sense of control and allow us to work on what interests us or what assists us in making a successful contribution to the group. Owning the classroom together means that both teachers and students can bring ideas to the table where there is agreement on more than one way to be involved in learning the necessary outcomes. “It’s the trajectory of ownership – from performing upon command to performing for the love of the performance.” (Steve Zimmerman)
Grade 7 Student Insights
Talking with a group of Grade 7 science students, their comments mirrored those of educational thought leaders. While working in a group preparing a documentary on tectonic plates, these young students tell me that they can stay on task when they were given the freedom to choose an aspect of the project that interested them the most, when they can work in a preferred learning style and when they can select a space that suits them best. They found a corner pod in the classroom with a sliding door that allowed them to talk without either being disturbed or distracting others. They added this profound thought, “We like it best when we have variety in choosing our own learning experiences and when the learning styles we prefer are matched to classroom activities.”
One-on-one attention from a teacher is a significant factor in bringing excellence to learning. Teachers who are available to work with students, to explain one more time, to offer a suggestion, to challenge, to encourage and to be a supportive learning coach contribute to the skills and the confidence needed for success. Traditionally, freeing up the teacher is a challenge, because the teacher is doing all the instruction. At Master’s, teams of teachers do hours of planning long before students become involved in a Learning Adventure project. With the planning framework in place, teachers are free to be the coach in the process with less need for direct instruction. Students are given meaningful choices and many guiding structures to support a self-managed process giving the teachers more freedom to conference with students and assist those needing support.
Value the Work
Top performing results happen, not only when we aim towards owning the classroom together, but also when students feel that their work is valued. Every day, all around the world, students are asked to do or make or create. When the end products are shared with authentic audiences, students see the value of their work. Pride and ownership are taken to a new high when students know the “real world” is involved. The whole experience moves beyond doing something to get a mark, although the grade a student receives remains a very significant part of the process. At Master’s, older students become involved in helping to assess the work of younger students and are quick to offer encouragement that is taken to heart. When parents are invited into a showcase of learning, when real-world audiences attend student presentations, and when significant adults are brought in to evaluate the final product, deep learning happens.
Empowerment leads to excellence in learning. Top results!