We often hear in the world of literacy, teach the writer not the writing. This makes so much sense. As teachers, we can help the student make one piece of writing better or we can help the student internalize the concept we are teaching so they can make their future writing better. We are helping students be in charge of their own learning.
If we can agree that this simple shift from focusing on one piece of writing to focusing on the writer will have far greater an impact on the student beyond the four walls of our classroom, then we can agree that we are putting trust in our students as learners. Why then, do we continue to use external motivators in the classroom? Why do we give them prizes, or “money” when they answer a question, finish reading a book or complete their homework? Why wouldn’t we want to achieve a sense of internal motivation...to learn for learning’s sake?
Our job as teachers is actually to make ourselves eventually not needed. What? Yes...you heard us right. We want to help students be independent. Don’t we all want that?
Training students that they will “get something” each time they complete an assignment or act in a way we deem prize worthy merely cements our place of being needed; it takes away our students’ potential for independence...and in the end, it is much easier to teach this way; to “pay” a student for compliance. We would argue that the more difficult road is help children self-regulate; to inspire themselves, to know themselves as learner.
This is the messy and more powerful way.
We, Justin and I, usually write in one voice. But at this point, I feel the need to write in my voice... because I want to celebrate Justin. He has been a valiant advocate for this messier and much more powerful way of teaching students. He is pushing the envelope not just in terms of his students, but also in terms of his colleagues. It is so much easier to go into our own rooms and close the doors the way we are told to teach. But it is the broader thinking teacher, like Justin, who spends the time to start conversations with colleagues about what is right for kids.
Here is to Justin and all of the courageous teachers like Justin who are willing to start conversations, for believing that students CAN be in charge of their own learning, for pushing the envelope even when it isn’t comfortable and there is a lot of push back. Here is to you, Justin. So proud to call you my partner.
We can’t help students shine from within by paying them; we need to help them begin to understand themselves as independent learners. We need to help them shine, not for us, but for them, and ultimately for our greater society. This is how we make the most impact.