10 ways to give students control…

The least successful session I ever facilitated for teachers was one I had been asked to do on goal setting. It’s something I am neither comfortable with nor expert at. I don’t set formal goals for myself, so it wasn’t authentic. I was uncertain of the value of the session and I was performing to someone else’s script.

A colleague told me she was uncomfortable teaching a new grade level and thought she wasn’t suited to teaching this age. It actually had little to do with the students and a great deal to do with the fact that she was guided by others who had taught the units before. She used their lesson plans, which didn’t always fit in with her style of teaching or beliefs about learning. She was performing to someone else’s script.

Talented actors can perform to anyone’s script and bring something of themselves to the role. But most of us find it easier to perform to a script of our own creation, which reflects our own beliefs, values and ideas. We need to question things that don’t feel right. We need to follow our instincts. We need to listen to our inner voices. We need to take risks and experiment with our ideas. We need to create our own scripts…

How does this play out for our students? How do we ensure they don’t spend most of their school lives performing to someone else’s script?

1. Make sure they have choice in what they learn and how they learn.

2. Ask their opinions and listen to them.

3. Care about what they say.

4. Don’t make all the decisions.

5. Provide a safe environment for experimentation with ideas.

6. Teach them that mistakes are part of learning.

7. Encourage them to follow their interests and their passions.

8. Provide opportunities for creativity.

9. Create a culture of thinking, where everyone’s thinking is valued.

10. Don’t expect them to do things without knowing why.

The only things in our way are demanding curricula, prescribed programs, content based text-books, standardised testing, emphasis on grades,  parental expectations…

12 thoughts on “10 ways to give students control…

  1. A great list, all is very true and reflections of important teaching. Reminds me of some “hooks” that I keep in mind: teach students ‘how’ to think, not ‘what’ to think, and be a source for investigation, rather than a source of information.

    From my experience, the approach of giving student autonomy also has a lot to do with classroom management. Specifically, the idea of “options” reminds me a lot of the Teaching With Love and Logic approach – a great method and book if you haven’t read through it.


  2. I truly enjoyed this post. Each of your bullet points is spot on. I have referred my readers to your posts on several occasions and will definitely direct them to this one also. I appreciate the time and thought You put into each of your posts. I teach art to students with emotional and behavior issues and strive every day to create an environment where they are safe and have lots of opportunities to make their own choices and decisions. You gave me some great things to keep in mind.


  3. Great stuff, thanks for writing and posting! I have teachers ask me all the time for tips on building a democratic classroom. My response is: Ask, listen, incorporate, repeat. At IEE we build Tools teachers can use to do so (www.excellenceandethics.org), but this list captures the simple-but-not-simplistic beauty about respecting the developing insights of individuals and communities of students.


  4. That is really a nice post. but sometime still problems exists. I am having a class since last month. few of the students are really nice. but most of them keep talking all the time, ignoring lectures. their behaviour is awkward. they always tried to tease me even though i always pretend that i m not being effected by it. the example of their act is that one will cough and then another will cough and go on till 10-15 minutes…. and laughing as well… and if u ask them not to do that they they will say that its natural and they cannot control it. sometimes i tried to talk to them and said that good students dont do that, then they clearly say that who told u that we are good. we are bad. so guide me how can i deal with this type of students.


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