What students want

I like Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley’s assertion in the Fourth Way that ‘Without students, there would be no teachers. Their voices matter a lot.’

It does seem incongruous that in a student-centred model, students have little input into process.  In an attempt to rectify this, Hargreaves and Shirley include students as partners of change as one of the six pillars  in the Fourth Way.

The authors admit that while students are targets of school reform and change, they are not often empowered to be agents of change despite having a good grasp of the things that help them learn.

A colleague recently forwarded me the replies from Year 11 students to the question ‘what makes a good teacher’:

  • knows how to teach and knows their subject
  • can communicate – gets all students involved by asking questions
  • adapts to the capabilities of students
  • doesn’t teach from the text books
  • good sense of humour

What is remarkable is that the comments were not only collected in 2004 but that it demonstrates a very clear alignment between what students know and what theory tells us.

What would Year 11 students in that secondary school tell us today?  Probably something similar – good teachers have deep discipline and pedagogical content knowledge (knows how to teach and knows their subject), adapts to the capabilities of students (can personalise learning) and can communicate with a good sense of humour (builds respectful relationships).

For me, it is confirmation that these qualities stand the test of time and learners.  We know what teachers want but how often do we ask or know what students want from their schooling experience?

7 thoughts on “What students want

    We need to be aware of some traditional and contemporary social constructions of the child and our own biases in order to understand what underpins our philosophy. By deconstructing these images and challenging our own bias we can have a more inclusive environment for children.
    (Woodrow 1999, Woodhead 1996 and James and Prout 1990, Carrington 2003)
    James, A and Prout, A. (Ed.). (1997). Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood. London: Routledge Falmer
    Ribbens, J. (2003). Mother’s images of children and their implications for maternal responses. In M. Woodhead and H. Montgomery (Ed)., Understanding Childhood: An Interdisciplinary Approach (pp.75-79). Haddington: The Open University

    Some perceive children as innocent, threat or monster (think about bullying!!), the corporate world sees them as consumers, then there are the iconic child, the child as an embryonic adult, the child as an empty vessel and so on… A lot of literature also positions children as ‘capable’.

    Perceiving the Child as innocent can perceive less agency (power) for children as they need to be protected and guided.

    From an advocacy perspective adults need to be the agency (power) for the child to challenge constructions and create a voice for children.

    Social Constructions of children – seeing children as capable learners in regards to literacy means that funds of knowledge are created messages now transport across time and space instantly and children are connected to popular culture like wii DS, texting etc. Multimodal and intertextual indicate text learning and thus literacy. Print literacy is no longer sufficient as an only means to successful participation in society and culture. This brings in social and cultural capital and enabling or denying power.

    Children should be accepted as they are (this is democratic) and therefore not be excluded or taught separately – Instead of only discussing social justice and talking about social justice we need to model it (democracy) and make it part of daily life experiences. Children need to be part of inclusive practice and kept within their own context. If we see (construct) children as capable learners then marginalising them / withdrawing them on specific grounds is just categorising them as a discourse of deficit. We want to look at a child’s strengths and build on it rather than identify deficit and perpetuate exclusion. This means inclusion not exclusion. Children can work with capable models and small group experiences with specialist teachers within their own context. So why not have a democratic classroom where the child’s voice is heard?

    “Intersubjectivity is the result of learning constructed jointly by children and adults, and it is imperative that children are consulted and are able to make decisions regarding their own learning”.
    If we deny children power then who has the power? If we have the power why do we want it? What do we get personally and professionally out of holding the power?

    Ideal teachers should not perpetuate norms nor should they socially construct children but should see children as capable young citizens capable of self directed learning especially when this can be facilitated with technology. The space has to become the other teacher, the equipment in it has to become another teacher. The teacher becomes the facilitator and guide;
    “The Reggio approach places great value on all children’s diverse experiences, ideas and opinions in the classroom and this approach also acknowledges the significance of understanding how diverse children learn”. (Hendrick, 2004)
    Allen (2004) states schools are known as formal institutions where students are educated by trained professionals who teach a standardised curriculum. Dewy (1997) proposes that schools should be a place which provide rich opportunities for self directed and group learning”.
    Children are getting these opportunities in Preschool and largely now Through the EYLF launched this year. So, let’s start as early as Kindergarten and offer a place for project based learning and discovery centres for a start. That is not to say we throw the baby out with the bath water – there is still a place for explicit teaching of skill development but there are some creative ways to impart this information too.

    I saw something today which stated in the old days children grew up in the dark (no electricity) – how will you let the light in?

    In a nutshell – children are capable learners. What do you think?

  2. For me the starting point is that every person is unique and therefore diferent. For this they deserve respect and dignity. Following from this i sthe belief that by definition of beiong human is the fact that everyone is capable of learning.
    As you point out society has and continues to construct realities depending on the prevailing narrative on how this human capacity for learning shouls be dealt with.
    The industrial narrative has run its course and we are in a desparate need of a new narrative to sustain learning and teaching in todays world

  3. Hi Greg,

    I really enjoyed reading this book too. For me, the take-home message was the importance of re-claiming teacher professionalism and the responsibility we have as educators (and this includes unions) in setting and maintaining high standards. To me, teacher professionalism is the most important part of the “fourth way” because it really empowers us to be the agents of change rather than the cogs in the wheel.

    I also agree that the “fourth way” embraces “both and” rather than “either or” thinking.



  4. The industrial narrative has indeed run its course. Contemporary education needs to ensure that learners are given opportunities to be critical thinkers. The shift is from conformity (industrial) to what Mezirow would describe as transformative learning. This is why I believe, some are struggling with the notion of Open Learning. Transformative learning makes us reflect critically on what is comfortable and can be ‘disorienting’. I see the future as learners becoming actively engaged through having a ‘voice’, in an inclusive democratic delivery style.
    I believe in the concept of democratic education and this is why I believe that the notion of Open Learning education has the capacity to foster democratic principles in a meaningful way. These being fraternity, liberty and equality. By reconceptualising educational aims and creating a conceptual framework on the premise that we are all life-long learners we can facilitate learning in an authentic manner. For instance, including children in decisions about what and how they learn gives liberty. By working together as teachers within the learning space there is modelling for children working in groups and thus fraternity. By embracing learners where they are at and seeing all learners as capable is equality.

    We have a moral responsibility to ensure that we model what we want children to learn. Instead of learning ‘about’, children need to learn ‘to’. Inclusive practice is important to foster because exclusive practice will encourage the wrong message ie)That vulnerability is wrong and people with diversity should be shunned, segregated, treated differently or un democratically. Our pedagogical choices are a form of cultural production and have the ability to change the social, political and economic world. The Catholic church is inclusive and so should our pedagogical practice. In re educating society and transforming society we need to be modelling from the beginning of education in schools and Preschools. Inclusive NOT exclusive practice should be the basis for social transformation so children experience democracy authentically. The steps to transformative learning includes a period of disorientation.

    Open Learning is transformative for many :

    Mezirow’s 10 step process for transformative learning is as follows;

    1. A disorienting dilemma
    2. Self-examination with feelings of fear, anger, guilt or shame.
    3. A critical assessment of assumption
    4. Recognition that one’s discontent and that the process of transformation are shared.
    5. Exploration of options for new roles, relationships and actions’
    6. Planning a course of action
    7. Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans
    8. Provisional trying of new roles
    9. Building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships
    10. A re-integration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective.

    Mezirow, J. Learning to think as an Adult. In Mezirow, J & Associates (eds) Learning As Transformation. San Fransisco: Jossey Bass.

    It is only through knowing our learners that we can move from the industrial age to the contemporary age (just my opinion!)

  5. Greg,

    Thank you for another informative post. I have been inspired to buy the book!

    Note your hyperlink to Fishpond. I use Booko for price comparision when buying books for myself and my children’s textbooks. As a teacher, the savings drive my PD dollar further.

    See http://www.booko.com.au/books/isbn/9781412976374
    All school librarian’s should be using this site to keep their suppliers honest.

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