a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
For learners who are or have been traditionally dependent on teachers for the direction, assessment, and framework for all of their academic endeavors, taking more responsibility for their learning may be a daunting or uncomfortable task. After all, isn’t it the job of the teacher to choose exactly what all students need, to tell them the ‘what,’ ‘when,’ ‘where,’ and ‘how’ of all their assignments—and then strictly and fairly evaluate them? Isn’t that what good teachers do?
Imagine with me the possible angst of a student who wants nothing more than to meet the expectations of the assignment, her teacher, and maybe even her parents. She is willing to devote long hours and great effort to do exactly what she is told, but then she comes to the task only to find out that both the topic choice and assignment type are negotiable and that resources to complete the assignment need to be found on her own. Worse yet, her grade is partially determined by whether or not she reached the goals that she set for herself. Sounds scary, doesn’t it—and maybe a little extreme—but goal-setting, wisely choosing resources, carrying out a plan, and reflectively assessing oneself are traits of independent learners as well as valuable skills that transfer from the classroom to the workplace. Don’t we as educators want, ultimately, to be preparing our students for life beyond the classroom? So isn’t this a good approach?
Perhaps the question to ask is not whether learners taking responsibility for their own learning has merit of its own (it does!) but whether we are willing to walk a few miles in the shoes of our students. Do they come from a culture where autonomy and risk-taking is valued? Are they accustomed to having choices when it comes to classroom work or projects? Are working independently and thinking creatively seen as positive or negative behaviors? Does the educational system of which they are a part encourage or discourage autonomy?
The Master Teacher, in His encounters with people, conversed with them where they were physically– dinner tables, synagogues, homes, places in nature, and markets, to name a few. He met them as individuals, too. There was no ‘one size fits all’ in His interactions. Though He had a clear message to bring to all, He knew His listeners and their needs, and to these needs, and from His wisdom, came just the right words and actions.
And so we, too, need to practice wisdom as we think about how best to help our students move toward greater autonomy in their specific learning environments. We seek to move them in this direction, wisely, knowing that the more a student invests in his own learning, the greater his benefit will be. We willingly take this very worthy task of knowing our students, and from the ownership of our task, comes joint ownership of this time-honored partnership of teaching-and-learning.
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
If taking ownership of their learning seems to overwhelm your students, choose one of the ideas below and try it out with them over the next week or two of teaching. Then, tell a colleague what happens and ask for their impressions and input.
Julie feels most at home with world travelers or international students, and no wonder since she lived in China for 17 years. She taught university students in the capital and beginning level students in one of Western China’s most out-of-the-way places. Now back in the town where she received her MA TESL, she tutors and teaches those the Master Teacher sends her way. Outside the classroom, she enjoys reading, relaxing in nature, and resting in His presence.