Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

The Partnership

partnershipby Julie Prentice

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.

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • What affective or other issues interfere with your students’ ability or willingness to take ownership of their learning? How can you help them overcome these issues?
  • How can you incorporate more learner responsibility in your specific academic context in a way that does not overwhelm your students?
  • How do you relate these concepts of learner independence and partnership between teacher and student to the teachings of the Master Teacher?

Try it out: Inching toward Ownership

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.

  1. Think about one assignment or project that students will complete. What is one change you could make to give learners more independence or choice? (Then, you could design two choices into a subsequent assignment or activity, and in the next…)
  2. What is one resource (a website or an app, for example) that your students could use to solve problems when completing activities or assignments? After introducing them to the resource, ask them to use it to solve problems independently before asking you or a classmate for help. (You could gradually continue to add resources as the semester progresses.)
  3. What are some learning strategies that would help your students solve problems autonomously? For example, do they know how to ask for clarification or help? Do they know how to figure out the meaning of words without looking them up? Choose one strategy, teach it to your students (including practice), and then encourage them to use it. (You could continue to teach strategies, one-by-one, throughout the semester.)
  4. When you begin a new unit, ask students, considering the focus of the unit, to decide on one goal they will work toward and make a simple plan for reaching it, both in class and on their own. You could work on this together as a class. (With the next unit, each student could set an individual goal and plan for accomplishing it. Then, with the next unit, perhaps students could plan more broadly–more than one goal, or longer term–until the end of the semester or school year.)

Post Author

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.

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2018 by in autonomous learning, fear, Julie Prentice, learner ownership.

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