Yesterday, a student asked me for help setting up a reflection page in the class wiki. As I sat beside him, he muttered, “I need to get some work done. I need to get marks in this course.”
I bit my tongue.
I am working very hard to build a community for learning in my courses this year. I really want to say that “we” are working hard to build a community for learning, but that isn’t the case…yet. In spite of establishing a consistent framework for the learning that embeds student choice and minimizes the teacher’s voice, considering the roles and responsibilities of the student, of the teacher, and of the room, and generating our community expectations for all the usual things like leaving the room and helping each other, the reality is that students are too deeply entrenched in the institutional side of education to actually be active participants in their own learning.
There are students for whom the game of school is about grades, increased opportunities to access higher education, and garnering a certain cachet as a top student.
Although Ontario students aren’t racing for the top, they are playing the game of school as well as any of their southern peers. Here you can listen to Kourosh Houshmand, a grade 12 student with the Toronto District School Board in 2012-13, being interviewed by The Agenda’s Steve Paikin. In response to the question, “How well do you feel that this public school system has prepared you for whatever is going to come next?”, Houshmand replied, “If the future consisted of life-long membership in the national regurgitation academy, then I’d be greatly prepared (22:35).
There is another game of school going on though that has nothing to do with high marks or the honour role. This
is the game of “just tell me what to do, so that I can get this credit.” You can see that game embedded in the “expectations” the students generated. In spite of small group discussion around some alternative classroom/community expectations (mistakes are signs of learning, take initiative, be actively involved, bring passion, engage) only those all too familiar rules that teachers list in their classes from grade 1 to well, this is grade 11, made the list (as the holder of the pen, I added “Take Risks” and “Practice Self-Regulation”).
What’s the next step?
To continue the conversation with the students in whole class setting and in one-on-one conferences. To lead them to intellectual engagement through the inquiry process, and yes, for some, through the newly acquired classroom technology. To have the students regularly write from a metacognitive stance. To provide them with lots of timely and constructive feedback. To continually look for ways to help students ask themselves”What do I need to learn next?” rather than to ask the teacher, “What do I have to do next?”