A primary Head teacher was recently telling me about a survey he used with his Year 6.
It was an activity they did towards the end of their primary years, after all the tedious testing was done and they could relax a bit. The survey asked them about their experience of school. And all the responses outlined a common theme; the children wished they were able to have more control, choice and independence over their learning.
It’s quite a radical idea to think of children being in charge of their own learning. Unless you’re a home educator in which case this is a common approach, especially among autonomous educators, which works very well. These children are involved in discussions and decision making and as a result are motivated to learn and achieve, yet are equally willing to be directed when required.
And this was what the Head discovered in school. As a result of the survey they discussed the children’s wishes with them and involved them in decisions about topics etc. By having some choice, they became engaged and motivated, producing a quality of work far higher than achieved when work was imposed upon them without consultation.
It’s often been observed that when youngsters go to university, when they are suddenly thrust into a more autonomous way of working after one where they’ve had no say in at all, many of them flounder with organising their work load simply because they haven’t had the chance to develop the skills to do so. They are sometimes lacking in motivation too, because any interest they had in learning has been dulled through years of having it foisted on them without choice or control.
Would this change if we gave children more say?
That idea is discussed in an interesting article here, which suggests that giving children more say, taking their ideas into account, gives them the respect they deserve, along with the dignity of being an involved learner rather than one who is dictated to. This immediately makes them more motivated and responsible.
Responsibility is what we need in our young people for study, the workplace and society. We want them to be independent, yet we tend to keep them suppressed by a system that neglects to give them the opportunity to be so.
Changing that would involve trust on our part.
What might be surprising about autonomously home schooled children, who appear at times to have no structure to their learning, is that they are motivated learners who achieve high grades. Their success is the result of having been given that respect and trust in their contribution to their own learning from the outset, from shared decision making and licence over their own education.
Although this approach is unlikely to work with learners who’ve been used to instruction throughout their school lives, maybe it’s possible to introduce more autonomy into schools to help develop these essential life-skills.