Students truly should be the focus in classrooms today. What does that look like? Doda (2011) suggests that there are four steps necessary in order to make student empowerment a reality: focusing on classroom community, thinking about learning, asking more and talking less, and finally offering options or choices. I happen to agree that classroom community is a necessary component of a student-centered or student-empowered classroom as well as the establishment of the remaining three principles indicated by Doda.
What is a community? What is classroom community? What is the relevance of both of these ideas? Well a community might be defined as a group of individuals that “commune” or interact in a geographical area, for the betterment of each other, to provide both intellectual and social stimulation for all within the community. Classroom community therefore is a group of peers that interact with each other to develop bonds and learning relationships. Students can gain knowledge from each other as well as the facilitator or educator. Within this type of environment, one can learn social constructs, develop or extend their knowledge, in an environment that is not restricted. Also, students may determine the rules or agreements necessarily in order for all students to engage in meaningful ways, such as listening to each other and not talking while others are doing so. Not only is this empowering, but if students form the rules, they would more likely be willing to abide by rules they were helpful in putting into place.
Think about Learning
Is this not already a common practice? Perhaps not. Perhaps the idea of thinking about learning is not as intentional as it needs to be. I firmly believe that learning is solidified when you take time to think about it. Moreover, I believe that learning even occurs when you take the time to reflect on it. Intentional is the operative term here, because without the intentional act, then one must wonder if there was any established purpose for the activity being taught or learned from the beginning. Through the reflection process, ideas are cemented in the mind, and growth can take place from this point (Du Bourg, 2016). So as one establishes or draws conclusions on the day, for example, what’s necessary to do can be determined (Du Bourg, 2016).
Ask More, Talk Less
The more I think about this aspect of student empowerment, the more I question why it isn’t a more known principle. What is the benefit of asking more and talking less? I believe that this is strongly connected to the construction of knowledge, analysis and synthesis. It also identifies an individual as a learner, rather than one who knows it all. Developing or cultivating a learner-centered environment should include the freedom to inquire or investigate or question. Questioning is a powerful reading strategy that helps to focus a reader on what they know and do not know. In addition, based on the questions asked, the student can begin to seek the answer, through continued investigation and focused intent. I strongly believe that if students can be motivated to seek after knowledge, they will not only find it (or determine gaps in current understanding) but create a perpetual desire to learn, build and grow.
I teach a variety of gifted students in the classroom and one of the most important considerations that an educator can make in the classroom is differentiation or offering students choices. Why is this important to do? “When students can choose where they sit, the books they read, the topics they investigate, the ideas they write about, or the project formats they find appealing, they become more invested in their own learning.” (Doda, 2011, p. 16). This does not mean that students are not provided with structure, but within a certain domain of knowledge, or a specific topic or subject matter, students can be provided with a choice on how to ascertain or develop their knowledge. Doda (2011) identifies that this demonstrates the faith we should have in our students and moreover, students begin to make good of that faith and end in long-lasting learning experiences.
If the goal is to develop the intellect and social maturity of the individuals in which we teach, then empowerment is the way. Empowerment is multifaceted, as students gain much more from it than can be gained from lecturing daily, or limiting the classroom experience to only written assignments. Empowerment is free-flowing, meaning that the educator has the responsibility to gauge the abilities of the student, and provide meaningful learning experiences that are tailored to the students in the classroom. This may change from year to year based on the students one receives. Nevertheless, just as the students may change, so should our practices. As we work to empower ourselves as educators, through the development of practice, leaving our comfort zones and building channels by which we can learn, we can empower students to do the same.
It takes a spark to create a fiery passion to seek after knowledge. Be the spark.
Doda, N. M. (2011). THE POWER OF EMPOWERMENT: Having faith in students. The Education Digest, 77(3), 14-17. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/900869086?accountid=458
Du Bourg, B. (2016). THE POWER OF DAILY REFLECTION. Accountancy SA, , 54-55. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1749627737?accountid=458