Empowering learners: sharing the locus of control
“You don’t have to be frightened about learning. You just have to be prepared to ask lots of questions . . . to find out what you don’t know. I like helping the others too . . .” Derek - Year 6 ‘priority learner’
Confident, connected and actively involved life-long learners
The New Zealand Curriculum requires us to produce these types of learners. To prepare students for the 21st Century, we also need to shift the power, so that learners and teachers share the locus of control – become partners in the learning process.
The value of motivation
Motivation, for both teachers and students, is often a stumbling block and causes much angst. Research has long linked learners’ motivation with both the value the learners place on the learning and their expectation of success.
Intrinsic motivation for learning also derives from the fact that humans typically want to understand the world. We want to have control over our lives and be self-directed – and this is where co-constructed learning fits in.
Two important questions to consider:
- How many opportunities do students actually get to meet this basic human need to direct their own lives?
- What can teachers do?
Who is best at ‘sharing the power’?
Characteristics of teachers who successfully ‘share the power’:
- Have an openness to learning
- Are partners in the learning and are prepared to share and disclose difficulties as well as triumphs in the learning process
- Have good structures within the classroom that are understood and accepted
- Have sound expectations of their students and consequences for students not meeting these expectations
- Have a belief that all students can learn and progress
- Know their learners both academically and personally and have learning focused relationships
- Share appropriate and relevant information about themselves with their students
- Are deeply respectful of their students’ learning
- Are adaptable – just because something ‘worked yesterday’ doesn’t mean it will work today – and demonstrate a willingness to change their established teaching routines
- Get others to support them in their learning and are highly reflective
- Don’t give up at the first hurdle, or expect things to work straight away, or every time
How to ‘share the power’
It is vital that teachers get to know their students and build learning-focused relationships.
“The sole purpose of [these relationships] is to support student learning. The student’s role in the relationship is only to learn . . . the teacher focuses on ‘what do I need to do now to best help this student learn?” Absolum, M.,2006. Clarity in the Classroom
Ways to ‘share the power’ include:
- Relate material to students’ lives and experiences, to current events and what the students value
- Have sufficient curriculum knowledge to be able to engage in open discourse with students, where ideas and understandings are socially mediated and developed
- Provide learning opportunities that allow for student choice and autonomy
- Understand (both teacher and students) what the learning is, what the destination is, and how to achieve this
- Provide timely, regular and specific feedback that is acted on and therefore enhances the learning and sense of achievement
- Consider a variety of ways (pedagogies) for approaching a task, for developing understanding. In this way teachers can change how they do things to meet the variety of student needs
- Offer choices about what, where, how or with whom work can be done
- Provide tasks that are varied and include novel elements
- Provide problems for students to solve that are realistic and challenging
- Provide opportunities for students to identify, create and then solve problems
- Develop tasks that involve creating a product or provide some concrete form of accomplishment
- Create a variety of opportunities to learn. ‘Mistakes’ are an essential part of learning
- Use scaffolding to support students’ attempts to understand
- Provide assessment opportunities that emphasise understanding and learning rather than work completion or right answers
The final word on the benefits of sharing control of the learning process. . .
For me, the words of Mortimer J. Adler encapsulate why we need to shift the locus of control – now.
“All genuine learning is active not passive. It involves the use of the mind, not just memory. It is the process of discovery, in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.”