Little learning occurs if students are not motivated. Even the most herculean teacher effort falls flat if students are disengaged. What is the solution? Teachers can help students take ownership of the learning process. If teachers consistently give students the opportunity to play more active and real roles in their education, students will rise to the challenge. Here are a few tips for how to do this.
Tip #1: Share Question Generation
Students are more motivated to learn when they generate at least some of the questions that drive the teaching and learning process. After all, who wants to spend all their time answering other people’s questions? Educators get to know their students’ thinking through the questions they ask, and teachers can always add in questions later if students miss particularly important ones. Students can create questions for a variety of purposes. For example, students can ask questions that help guide a group research project.
Tip #2 Let Students Discuss
Teachers are in a position of authority and expertise and if they take too active a role in classroom discussions, they can stifle the conversation. During the school year, I lead many classroom discussions. However, I also make sure that some of our class discussions are entirely student-led. In these instances, I establish basic parameters for the discussion, and then I take a back seat and allow students to take ownership of the discussion.
My students from middle school to graduate school level have all performed well in these structured seminars. Students are motivated by this opportunity to express ideas and hear from peers without me constantly intervening.
Tip #3 Use Formative Peer Assessment
For certain assignments, ask students to assess each other’s work. Although the quality may not be equal to what a teacher can provide, peer assessment can give students more immediate and individualized attention. For example, in an English class, students can share the first draft of an essay with their peers. This peer review process provides students with feedback that they can then incorporate into their final draft.
Tips #4 Ask Students to Self-assess
Cognitively and emotionally, students can only absorb so much feedback at one time. Teachers cannot always accurately guess what feedback each learner is willing to hear. Asking students to self-assess helps educators know the feedback that students are ready to receive. Self-assessment also helps students see assessment as a process that encourages reflection and personal growth.
Tip #5 Give Students Classroom Jobs
Everywhere I have taught, I have had students who enjoy helping out with classroom tasks. Invite students to hand out papers, write on the board, and keep track of copies for absent students. Try having a rotating class leader who assists you with a set of tasks each week. Letting students take ownership of classroom duties reminds them that they, too, play an important role in shaping the classroom environment.