I used to think that giving homework the first day of school set the “tone” for our classroom, that this was an academic class that had rigor and demanded their best. Now I realize that I was trying to intimidate my students so that they would work hard and know that I was the one in charge.
I used to think that compliant, well-behaved students were the ideal; now I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for the kids who think that scoring 90% actually means something in the real world. I’m afraid for the kids who believe the academic hoops they jump through so effortlessly guarantee that they will be successful at life. I’ve come to believe that being good at school might mean you’d make a decent academic, but it isn’t a guarantee of much else.
I used to think, as a high school teacher, that reading was someone else’s job to teach. Now I think it’s important for learners to be taught these strategies across the K-12 spectrum.
I used to think that some kids weren’t cut out for school. They were lazy, unmotivated, and not “academic,” as if being academic was the most important thing in the world. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s the cutout school that’s the problem. Kids love to learn and do it quite naturally. They just might not be buying what I’m selling.
I’ve learned about self-regulation
Self regulation is defined as the process of taking control of and evaluating one’s own learning and behavior. Self-regulated students are learners who can reflect critically and accurately about their own thinking and learning.
Look at the research:
– “Self-regulated learning (SRL), as the three words imply, emphasizes autonomy and control by the individual who monitors, directs, and regulates actions toward goals of information acquisition, expanding expertise, and self-improvement” (Paris and Paris 2001).
– In particular, self-regulated learners are cognizant of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and they have a repertoire of strategies they appropriately apply to tackle the day-to-day challenges of academic tasks. These learners hold incremental beliefs about intelligence (as opposed to entity, or fixed views of intelligence) and attribute their successes or failures to factors (e.g., effort expended on a task, effective use of strategies) within their control (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Dweck, 2002).
– Finally, students who are self-regulated learners believe that opportunities to take on challenging tasks, practice their learning, develop a deep understanding of subject matter, and exert effort will give rise to academic success (Perry et al., 2006). In part, these characteristics may help to explain why self-regulated learners usually exhibit a high sense of self-efficacy (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). In the educational psychology literature, researchers have linked these characteristics to success in and beyond school (Corno, et al., 2002; Pintrich, 2000; Winne & Perry, 2000).
To be honest, until 8 months ago I’d never heard of self-regulation. Now I believe it’s one of the most important things we need to develop in our students, starting in Kindergarten right through to grade 12.
No more “fill-er-up”
I used to think that my job as a teacher was to “fill” my students with the knowledge I possessed, even if I’d just acquired that knowledge from the internet the night before. Lecture was the primary modus operandi in my classroom.
Now I believe that an inquiry/pbl classroom is both empowering and liberating. The most important skill I can model for my students is how to learn and how to talk about learning. Instead of seeing my students as empty vessels, I believe they are reflexive learners, capable of change, who have much to offer to my own learning. My students have proven themselves to be competent researchers.
I used to think I needed to “run the show.” Of course this would be the only way to avoid discipline & behavior issues. Now I know that my students are able to be co-designers of our learning environment — from choosing which curriculum objectives we will work on, to unit and assignment creation, to co-constructing the criteria for the assessment.
I used to think that content was the most important thing I could teach. What was I thinking? In a Google world, most of the content I once valued so highly can be accessed in seconds, making the role of content provider obsolete. Now I think skills, like collaboration, critical thinking, and being able to locate rich, reliable information are much more important. So now I use content to teach skills. I’m a skills provider.
I used to think that ranting at students about their lack of engagement and their apathy towards learning might get a positive response. Now I realize that if you’re learning about and working on a project that is worthy of your time and attention, you don’t have to be cajoled. Students will devote everything to worthy work, in ways you can’t even imagine at the outset. Students will often defy our expectations if we give them the opportunity to do so.
I used to think homework was important. Now I believe most of what I assigned didn’t do much to enrich my student’s learning.
I used to think the essay was the Holy Grail of the English classroom. Now I honestly believe it’s one of the least useful forms of communication I teach, at least in the 5-paragraph essay format. I still believe it’s important for my students to be able to persuasively argue, but now they learn how to do it via blogging, social media, and using visual and audio formats.
What does 82% really mean?
I used to think marks were important. Now I think they’re arbitrary at best. What does 82% really mean? I’ve asked my students that question. They don’t know, and the truth is, most often, neither do I. I would like to get rid of all marks, and move solely to feedback, and the more often this feedback can be verbal dialogue the better. When my students receive lots of formative feedback they know where they stand as learners. Then it’s about learning, not marks and grades.
I used to think teaching an AP class of top students was the pinnacle of a high school teacher’s career. Now it would feel like I was wearing a straitjacket.
I used to think technology was for searching and sporadic use during end-of-unit projects. Now I believe it has to be infused, authentically, into every step of the learning process.
I used to think exams were vital at the end of every unit. Now I believe that deep learning is much too complex to capture well in this format. Learning needs to be expressed in multiple formats, over a period of time.
I used to think our current K-12 format made sense. Now I believe it fails so many of our students. I look at students who are in Grade 1 or 2 and struggling to learn to read at the teacher’s pace. For some of them, their little brains just aren’t quite ready yet — all they need is more time. But the current system we have doesn’t allow for it. Kids are pushed along the assembly line and many develop not only large learning gaps, but a lack of self-efficacy.
I see this in high school too. Some kids take longer to develop abstract thinking, and struggle with math and other abstract concepts. The truth is that in high school I couldn’t understand Chemistry. Now I teach it. I could learn it in university, as an adult, because my brain was ready.
I used to think I knew what good teaching was . . .
I used to think I was a pretty good teacher. Now I realize that I did the best I could with the knowledge I had, but my classroom was woefully inadequate for many of my students. I failed to equip them with what they needed.
During the past 6 months, working in multiple schools, I’ve learned so much from modified & alternative education students. These are the kids at the margins, the ones who don’t jump the hoops properly. Many of them, by the time they reach high school, don’t feel good about school, about themselves, or about learning.
Unfortunately, many drop out. As much as so-called “regular” kids need our schools to be better, these kids need schools to change even more.
I’ve come to realize that every student deserves to be in an environment that helps them grow and learn, and makes them feel good about themselves. All kids want to succeed. It’s my job to help them find ways to do that. I now believe my students are competent to show me what they need, if only I take the time to listen and ask authentic questions.
I’m becoming a better teacher by giving up a lot of what I used to think.
Latest posts by Shelley Wright (see all)
- Start with Why: The power of student-driven learning - May 8, 2019
- Are You Ready to Join the Slow Education Movement? - August 26, 2014
- Academic Teaching Doesn't Prepare Students for Life - November 7, 2013
This one actually caused me pain, at least partly because I’ve been ranting a bit at one of my classes lately, over our struggle with engagement. Agggh – I know it’s not going to help, but I still find myself doing it. Thanks for helping me think about what might work better.
On the other hand, 2 of my classes jumped at the chance to design their own ways to meet the curriculum expectation of a rehearsed oral presentation in French.
Small steps. Again, thank you, for always giving me things to think about.
You’re right, Lisa. It’s always small steps, and sometimes it feels like we’re going backwards rather than forwards!
So exciting to hear that some of your classes are designing their own curriculum assignments/assessments. It’s exciting to see what kids will do when given the chance!
Thanks for sharing this. It speaks to my own experience and current position on education. I look to the kindergarten room these days for inspiration.
I absolutely agree. There are so many great things for kids in Kindergarten that we stop doing when they get older, and I’m not sure why.
Another great post Shelley! I couldn’t agree more! Think you many think like you: “I used to think our current K-12 format made sense. Now I believe it fails so many of our students. I look at students who are in Grade 1 or 2 and struggling to learn to read at the teacher’s pace. For some of them, their little brains just aren’t quite ready yet â€” all they need is more time.”
If we don’t change the system from grade 1 we will continue to support a system that allows children going through school with large learning gaps, and more seriously with a lack of self-efficacy. By the way I’m sure you were always a great teacher! And I’m grateful that you share your continued journey of learning and teaching!
Thanks, Ann! I’m not sure if it’s possible to reinvent what exists, or if it needs to be dismantled and we begin anew. But I think until something radical happens, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always gotten.
Thanks for writing such an important post. Through your reflection, you touch on many/all of the themes that we have been thinking about too! Where are we going? You give us a map but more importantly, your “thinking” journey may provide us the inspiration and hope that we will one day arrive in a better place.
Thank you, Terry! This is piece is the result of my own long journey, which I know is far from complete.
Great post Shelley! Your humble, reflective spirit will make you an even more amazing educator. My foundation helps entire systems make the transition you speak about. Check out “Delivering on the Promise The Education Revolution” which tells our story. Thanks for inspiring so many. Your students are lucky!
Y como califica el avance o da los crÃ©ditos de sus educandos???Suena muy bien pero la brecha es muy amplia entre los procesos evauatorios de OLD FASHION
So well stated. The message in your post is clear and well aligned to my thinking as well. What do you do to advocate for that beyond your classroom?
I speak & work with teachers, but I think one of the most important pieces is working with parents. This way of thinking is often incredibly foreign to many of our parents who were educated in a very different system. Often they don’t understand the depth of reflection behind changing practices.
being usefully ignorant. – Erica McWilliams
Now I’ve come to realize that it’s the cutout school that’s the problem. Kids love to learn and do it quite naturally. They just might not be buying what I’m selling.
Thank you for this encouraging post.
I’m implementing these very ideals for the first time this year. It’s working wonderfully with the students, but I am so out of step with my colleagues that sometimes it’s hard to be confident I am doing the right thing. It’s very encouraging to see that someone else is experiencing the same epiphanies I am.
It can be very difficult when you’re the lone ranger, surrounded by colleagues who don’t do or think what you do. But keep going. You’ll be able to tell from your students if what you’re doing is right. I find they’re a much better indicator than anything else.
Thanks for this. It really resonated with me (I, too, used to think a lot of these). I still find it a struggle to move beyond what I see is needed to move forward in the current system. A lot of conversations around school improvement are happening, but in isolation of the wider community. I worry what will happen as we open these conversations to a public that is still thinking that school as a factory-model is the only way…..
I think it’s going to take a lot of discussion. A lot. And I think for some parents seeing is believing. Many parents I talk to have no clue there’s any other way than the factory system they grew up in. I think we’re at the beginning of change, but we need to do it wisely.
For me it’s not about higher test scores; it’s about kids who can articulate their learning because they’re self-directed, and I think it should be a really enjoyable process along the way. I think kids who experience this is what will win over parents in the long run.
Great Post, came just as we were preparing for post marking period student of concern discussions. Before reading your post, I had been re-reading a short book on Appreciative Inquiry. In a nut shell, the author argues that when organizations focus on fixing problems, that is all that happens, a problem is “fixed” but that doesn’t move an organization from ok to great. The transferable idea for our students is that if all we see is what is wrong we will never help our students realize all of their unique capacities for learning and growth. I would much rather identify strengths, interests, passions and build from those.
Our challenge is to shift our education structures to meet our students, not our students to “fit” into the structures.
I was talking with colleagues recently about making this shift in structure. We were discussing whether or not our suburban, independent school could replicate the experiment of the new Sustainability Workshop in Philadelphia. Is there a freedom that comes with working with kids for whom “the system” has no expectations?
I love what you’ve said here. So often we focus on what doesn’t work. I especially see this with schools. I think sometimes we need to look at what doesn’t work and fix it, but there’s also power in focusing on what we do well, what our strengths are. Thanks for the links. I need to spend more time looking into this!
Thanks Shelley for the great posting. My experience in school was many, many years ago and yet I see the same behaviors and attitudes today in the college where I work. Some classes you might think there were no students present the room is so vacant of activity. Oddly, as Margaret Haviland suggested, the human exchange that makes education meaningful only happens in the “remedial” courses for those who came out of school as “failures.”
Thinking back it seemed that if you showed the qualities of a good student (as defined by the system) you were auto-taught and if you resisted you were on your own. In some ways I’ve believed this to be a betrayal but I now see the great opportunity it was to be left alone:-) It might be that some will not fit even in a class as welcoming as your class sounds Shelley and think there may be room for no schooling for some. The trick is to not let that become a measure of worth or an excuse to marginalize the non-student as unable to be a learner.
Will read over the appreciative inquiry material and see if I can make this sound more convincing.
I think you’ve touched on a really important point here. There’s a big difference between being a student and a learner. I think our world needs very few students, but everyone needs to learn. And the thing is, our brains learn quite naturally, just maybe not in the way most schools are presently designed.
Which leads us to the next important point. We need to begin to change our traditional institutions to reflect this need.
Thanks, Shelley–we all need to reflect on the accidental judgments we’ve made about why things aren’t working. What role are we playing in the problem?
Thanks for sharing! Our world is changing and we need to change our education systems too. Kudos to you for not only being aware of the need for change, but also making those changes which will have a profound effect on what and how your students learn. We will all benefit.
Thank you for this thoughtful and honest article. We teachers grow, as the students do, from exposure to new ideas and experiences. It is not always easy to make the step to the next level the kids need, but we can do it. I’m including you article in my blog ‘Thoughtful Tweets of the Day 11/13/12’ http://mzteachuh.blogspot.com
Thanks for sharing my work!
I use to think that students “needed” homework to prove they learned something. Now I am happy if hey share their thinking about what they have learned.
I use to think that there was a reason that students did not behave. Now I know I was wrong, there is a multitude of reasons, circumstances, and events that affect students before they walk through my classroom door.
I use to think some students were not cut out for school. I realize now that school was not cut out for them. Differentiated instruction and respecting diversity is what will bring more learners to the table. Multiple intelligence will help us get them there.
Technology does need to be infused, I find the school computer lab is holding us back, and we would benefit more from 5-6 devices that were shared in the classroom. My students are learing to google something faster than go to dictionaries or atlases that are in the classroom and out of date.
This was an interesting page. I left primary for junior, because I knew I could motivate more students to self regulate themselves. In primary, you have to have more parent buy in. Engaged learning can happen with any age bracket, but students at the grade 5 level, where I currently exist, have more reasoning skills, critical thinking skills, and can learn to convince themselves that taking part will be a positive experience for them.
Learning should be exciting and engaging to everyone in some way, each day. Also, the learning comes from each other, and is built together, not just from me.
Well said, Robert!
This is a beautiful way to make us reflect about our own teaching experiences and on what we are doing every day with the students
I am very interested in the reflections you have made. However, I am trying to picture myself in a classroom that you have described. I just wouldn’t know how to get it started. Can you give me some insight into how you directed your students into designing their own learning goals, and how you kept them motivated long enough to “catch the fever” of being in charge of their learning? I think my students would just sit there, be frustrated, or see this as a big socialization time. Because I am so in tune with the traditional classroom, I can’t even imagine moving in the direction you are suggesting – even though I believe you my Have hit on the way to recreate education. I teach high school biology and I am up for the challenge if you can give me more information or point me to a website, book, or experienced professional to get me started. Thanks for the courage to inspire us all!
It’s definitely a bit of a process. Here’s a post I wrote that talks about how a teacher might begin to shift their classroom this way:
This is what it’s looked like in my English classroom:
This is what it’s looked like in my science classrooms:
If you have any questions, let me know!
Excellent article Shelley. I have been in education for more than 50 years and I changed my thinking much as you did. I have a book, Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning . . . so consistent with your thinking. Give it a look. Will send a copy if you provide your mailing address. The structure of our schools needs to change for teachers to take full advantage of your advice.
Thanks for giving clear and elegant voice to a number of issues I am currently wrestling with. It helps to know that others are pushing out of their comfort zones, and by having public conversations about that they are encouraging even more people to do the same.
Hi Shelley. Your honest reflections are refreshing and I appreciate you being willingness to be transparent and authentic. Your passion for students and teaching come through. The statements “I used to think” actually feels like the opportunity for each of us to ask those same questions and do some of the same reflective thinking you have. We won’t all come to the same answers or conclusions, but then, we don’t all work in the same places, same populations, same cultures, same education and background. “Rhizomatic” learning (coined by Dave Cormier – @davecormier) moves learning in often unpredictable directions. The learning environment is crucial in that growth. Our notions about what the goal of learning is and the nature of the learner certainly impact how that looks. Learning is far from the linear model we were trained and in some ways, “forced” to use. The style of engagement you’re discussing involves messing learning. Wouldn’t you say for even those who want to change, this disruptive kind of learning is a little scary? (for both teachers and students)
These are not easy tasks. Not only do we have to rethink and retool as educators, but we have to do that in an educational environment that is in conflict over valuing test scores and measured outcomes against the relevancy of the classroom in its current state for this generation of students.
As we change in our practice and encouragement student engagement in the learning process, I believe many teachers will experience a certain amount of resistance and passivity from students who have been asked to be relatively passive in the learning process. I’ve seen it. So it is a process – and we start where we are and do our best to influence students, parents, other teachers, admin., etc. What I appreciate from the conversation here is the desire to value our students and create a learning environment where they can experience being honored as capable learners. As one commenter asked, “Where do we start?” Maybe, it’s taking the statements above and changing one idea, one practice at a time. Thanks again, Shelley.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree that, at times, it’s difficult to know where to begin. And I think for every teacher & learning environment the answer will be different. But I’ve learned that once our students realize that we’re serious about their authentic participation & engagement, they often become enthusiastic partners & advocates.
I know that is extremely difficult to develop self-regulation in Young learners, but it must be a goal at the ende of Primary school.
Self-regulation is what students need to trully succeed in education.