Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Possibilities...

I once had a student that no one would teach. I mean no one. He was passed around from teacher to teacher with every explanation under the sun as to why he was "unteachable." He was a bad kid. He had uninvolved parents. He wasn't that bright. The excuses went on and on and on. I volunteered to take him. Not because I am a saint or was looking to "save" him but I felt bad for him. Kids in Middle School are fragile enough. I didn't want to think of the psychological damage these teachers were doing to him, passing him around. He needed a home and me and my teachers were willing to provide it for him.

We had a rough couple of weeks. I saw what some would consider "bad behavior." He would say something or do something so that attention was on him. One day I had him stay after school and talk to me. I asked him what was up. He wanted to play sports in school but was never allowed because he was a marked man in terms of his behavior. He opened up to me and said he was tired of everyone telling him what to do. He wanted to make his own choices and decisions. I asked if we was ready to be grown (as we say in the South). He said no, but he did think he was old enough to decide things on his own. So it was decided. He would be in charge of what we were doing in class that week. We were studying cells at the time. It was up to him to decide how he would get all the required information and how he would present it to the class. I would have no say in the matter. Of course, the other students had the same options as him and we let it last a week.

He took to that assignment like nothing he had ever done before. He was able to get the information his way. And learn it his way. (Of course we had to make sure he, and the rest of the class, were getting the correct information.) And best of all he presented it, his way. I saw one of the coolest dance and song routines I have quite possibly ever seen. Looking back, I regret I never videoed it but trust me, it was brilliant!

Student ownership of learning was the topic for last night's #edchat. And what an interesting discussion. You can read the entire archive here and see some of the feedback here.

Really, what is student ownership of learning? Is it the story I told here? Maybe. My student did take the main idea of cells and find the information on his own, organize it on his own, and find a way to present the information. So he had ownership over that assignment, but over his leaning? I am not so sure. When he went on to the next group of teachers next year, would he have the same opportunities? Doubtful. And then where would he be? Back to square one. So while I provided for him some great chance to learn on his own did I really teach him the value of ownership of his learning?

Kelly Hines, an educator whom I most admire, said something, I believe, was very profound.

"I think ownership is a noble intention but one that often eludes us when the madness of daily life overwhelms us."

Wow! Kelly is so right. While we want to teach our kids the value of taking ownership of their learning, most times the hussle and bussle of the classroom gets in the way. Yes, just like me, we try to provide authentic learning experiences for our students but do we really, teach them how to take ownership of their learning. We hope they "get it" but often times it is not until late in their education, either in high school or even college that they understand why and how to do it. And even then, do we really ever, truly master the art of ownership of learning?

As educators we should strive everyday to provide real-world, authentic learning experiences. But we should also be stressing and modeling what it means to take ownership of our learning. And maybe, just maybe, the kids will start to learn that they have the power and are powerful enough to take ownership of their learning. And maybe, just maybe, they will rise up and rebel and take down this system of education we have in place today and say that it's not working for them and not meeting their needs. And maybe, just maybe, they will design their own system of learning that will revolutionize education as we know it...

Ahh..the possibilities...

Image from Flickr CC Search. View the original here.


  1. I am really glad that you took the stundent under your wings. You are right. I wonder about his future.

  2. I believe you have shone a light for one student that may guide him further than you think. I teach 20-24 such students in my Outreach program, and our first objective is to help them get the wheels back on their wagon. Then we work on academic improvement. Problem solving, predicting, and being pro-active concerning future complications are the skills that I think you bring to students. Since they are the only ones within their sphere of control, they must know how they will deal with adversity. Kudos to you for seeing that someone needed your kindness, guidance, and tolerance.

  3. Great Post! I believe students look to teacher to see if we teacher from an authentic and caring heart. We all look to people to see if they are divided between what they say they are and what their actions reveal. I can tell that you are the real thing by your story.

  4. Can we really ever own our learning? Good question. How would we know when we have learned enough? I guess that's where the mentor/guide comes along. This all spurs a lot more questions for me.

  5. The possibilities indeed. I look to my own learning experiences in the past year or so as I have discovered the world of educational blogs. The daily conversations, the resources, and the reflection that I am taking part in has created more of a learning experience for me than many classes I took in university. Perhaps the ability to pick and choose and direct how much I want to create is a factor. With guidance as you point out, students should be given as much opportunity as possible to "take ownership" and perhaps then it will become a habit, now matter where they are.