Do you trust your students?

Year 9 electronic design and make projects.

(Like many others I had Blackberry issues last week and didn’t manage to upload an image for my post, back to normal this week.)

Along with many others I have been following a series of guest posts over on Classroom as Microcosm written by students.  http://siobhancurious.com/2011/10/14/university-isnt-everything/ )  They have all made interesting reading as have many of the comments that readers have made about them.  I would love to think that some of these students would make it into the teaching profession for at least two reasons; their writing communicates a real sense of passion one way or another and I would like to see how their views are moderated by their experiences of the other side of the teaching divide.  I have no intention of being the sort of person who claims that if only these youngsters tried out the job they would understand the problems, rather I would love to see more teachers who were prepared to stretch the limits of the system.  Heaven knows, they need a bit of stretching.  I sometimes think about what my ideal school would be like and who I would invite to teach in it, hoping that I would have the courage to gather together a really diverse bunch of teachers who shared certain qualities but were excitingly different.  In this utopia of mine every child would be an enthusiastic learner and every teacher a gifted and passionate person.  Perhaps we should do a bit of co design on this, post me your comments and suggestions and we will see what we can come up with.

The student posts also reminded me how far we have come in using what we call student voice in our schools.  For many years school councils were an exercise in limited option politics; they had very little real influence and were certainly barred from discussing certain things, usually the ones that really mattered.  Of course I generalise,  I am certain that there have always been teachers who have risked trusting students.  Naturally the suspicion is that the moment they are given the opportunity our pupils will run riot, I am sure that is true in many schools but I am fortunate that I spend time with children who are  lovely to work with.  Many years ago there was a move to get students involved in writing their own reports.  I lost count of the number of times that experienced professionals assured me that their classes would simply give themselves top marks and that it was a ridiculous idea.  Any one who has tried this will know that actually pupils are very good at determining their own ability, they hate to say that they are good at anything and in fact the problem is often that they are too self critical in their reporting.

Well I am glad to say that things have moved along and that they level of student engagement with both formative and summative assessment is, or should be very high.  It is expected that every pupil will know their current level and exactly what they need to do to reach the next one. (I have to admit to a conviction that this particular focus is anti educational in many ways, it implies that the level descriptors represent real learning.)  It is also quite routine to ask pupils to assess their own work and the work of their peers, often first analysing what criteria should be used for the assessment.  In an earlier post I alluded to the storm in a teacup in our press when they discovered that pupils were taking part in staff interviews.  This is now a routine and I have to say very informative exercise though to my knowledge no school has given the pupils the right to hire staff, unless someone out there knows something I don’t.  What I have found is that pupils are very accurate in their responses in this situation and in many others.

So my question is do you ever ask your pupils for their opinion of your lessons?  A very common way of doing this is to set the learning objective a the start of the lesson as usual, accompanied by the learning outcomes and success criteria, and then to ask the class to indicate at the end of the lesson the degree to which they have met the objective.  Now that feels quite comfortable after a bit of practice so how about you ask them what you could do to improve the lesson or the module of work?  That does seem a little more risky, after all they are no longer commenting on their work but on yours.  However there are ways of doing this and making it productive.  For example I have just finished a module with some children and my question to them was, “What would you like me to tell the next group I have so that they could do a good job with this project?”  Both of us find it easier that this is not a direct and personal comment, they are very ready to offer advice to their peers and their peers are, it seems, interested to hear the advice.

I have found that with almost every aspect of the craft of the classsroom there are a myriad of suggestions available on line.  I am sure that there will be many, many other ideas from teachers across the globe.  If we mean what we say when we claim that we want our children to be independent learners and to share our love of learning, not to mention our passion for our subject then we are, it seems to me obliged to listen to their judgement when it comes to the1r own learning and our teaching.  As responsible professional it is up to us to establish frameworks with our classes that allow this process to take place in a productive way and there are times when my knowledge and expertise will lead me to a different conclusion but at least that will open up the conversation about the learning.

So, do you trust your students?

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