By Teachers, For Teachers
The learning process can be difficult for some students. They may doubt their intellectual abilities or have a hard time concentrating in class. Regardless of why some students may struggle, every student deserves to learn in a positive environment. Creating a positive learning atmosphere requires some work, but once established, you will see your students flourish.
In many classrooms, students are rarely part of the discussions or decisions that are being made concerning their pedagogical practice. However, to create a conducive classroom culture, there must be shared ownership. Classrooms must emphasize active learning where students are engaged in discussions, as well as have a fair amount of choice regarding their knowledge. Here are a few tips to follow to ensure that students have taken ownership of their education.
You’ve probably heard before that it’s essential to give students a voice. This is because students feel valued when their opinions are heard. Allowing students to have a say, whether it’s an opinion about what book they want to read or the topic they want to do their project on, communicates to students that their opinion is valued. A great example of the power of student voice comes from a third-grade classroom that I had the pleasure of teaching. For one week, students were given a voice and a choice to make their own decision on when and how much work they would complete on their project. The result ended with almost every student in class completing all of their projects before the deadline. The students were given a choice to make a decision, which gave them control over their learning and resulted in self-motivation.
We’ve all heard the saying, “we learn from our mistakes.” This saying is something that most of us say when we’re trying to make ourselves or others feel better about something that didn’t go as planned. Mistakes happen to everyone and for students to understand that, they’ll need to develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset is when students believe their abilities can change and have a clear understanding of the value of effort and persistence. When students realize that it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you earn from it, it’ll help them grow. Make your classroom a safe place to fail. Students will soon learn that failing is the first attempt at learning. Success is a process that usually involves some struggle. You can help students realize this by sharing your own stories of when you made a mistake and had to overcome it. Hearing about your personal struggles is a great way for students to learn that errors can in fact be valuable.
When creating a learning atmosphere that is geared towards student ownership, having a classroom that uses humor can help build the classroom community and the relationships in it. Welcome humor (that is free of sarcasm), and you will see students working hard to succeed. Remember, while you may not be a trained comedian, you can still create an enjoyable atmosphere. Laughter brings joy, and any time you are laughing together as a class, you are helping to build a strong rapport.
Motivating students to participate in class can be a constant struggle for many teachers. Whether students have fear of failure or shyness, it’s not always easy getting them involved in classroom discussions. However, in a shared-ownership classroom, the more students are engaged in learning, the higher their confidence will be, which will help to drive their knowledge.
To help facilitate classroom participation, try to mix it up. For example, students who are reluctant to speak up, you can offer alternative ways to express their thoughts, such as through sticky notes or partner talk. As long as you vary the way students can participate in class so that everyone has the opportunity to share, students will actively get involved on their own.
As mentioned earlier, part of a shared-ownership classroom is that students’ voices must be heard. That means that you must utilize their opinions to create a classroom culture where students are part of the learning process. Choice promotes a sense of control, which gives students a sense of purpose and the confidence to motivate them. Allow students to be part of the entire learning process, such as making their own decisions. When you do so, it will help to give students ownership, which will most likely result in a higher level of engagement and motivation towards learning.
Creating a shared-ownership classroom means taking the time to build relationships and create a learning atmosphere where all students feel comfortable to participate. Provide choices, listen to students’ opinions, allow students to make mistakes, and embrace humor. Show students that they are the most important participants in their learning.
Janelle holds an MS in Education.