Listening to students

My last two posts have talked about listening to students. I just came across Susan Black's article "Listening to Students" in the American School Board Journal. She writes,

Giving students a voice in classroom decisions -- such as suggesting themes and topics to study -- and in school policies -- such as homework regulations -- makes schools less autocratic and more democratic. And democratic schools, researchers say, tend to have fewer discipline problems, more civic involvement, higher student engagement, and higher achievement. Plus, schools that genuinely seek and appreciate students’ ideas are more likely to see their school improvement plans succeed.

In contrast, schools that silence students can lead to their dropping out.

Students’ words matter, says Carole Gallagher of Indiana University, Columbus. In a 2002 study, she discovered that most school dropouts have been “systematically silenced,” not only in curriculum but also in how their schools are run.

Teachers in an Ohio middle school decided to listen:

By listening to their students, these teachers learned to look at them through a different lens that brought the kids into sharper focus. As a result, the teachers said they became less judgmental, more patient with their students, and more committed to helping them succeed.

The teachers also began to think more about their students as individuals, selecting strategies based on information they had gathered from the kids.

Part of motivation, according to self-determination theory, is autonomy and social relatedness. Teachers need to interact with students in ways that recognize the social, not simply the authoritarian. And students need some voice and control over their learning activity. How to achieve a good balance between competing needs to faciliate learning takes a lot of listening to all the voices concerned.