Letting Students Have a Say In What They Learn

We started our school year this week, and I have a small class of very eager kids. They love to learn, want to participate in everything and have some great ideas of their own.
As I stood in class moving from one activity to another, I was preparing to ask my students what THEY hoped to learn during this school year.
Although I start off each school year this way, it dawned on me that not everyone does this.
Many will argue that kids don’t understand this question or have no idea how to respond. I’ve always been of the school that as teachers and administrators we are dealing with classrooms full of consumers, who are looking to be taught about a ‘product’; a typical business model. However in most schools the students are dealing with classrooms of dictatorship, with them having no voice as to what the process they are participating in entails! We’ve all heard older students ask when they “will ever use this stuff in real life.” We should be able to give real life applications to all of our students, no matter what age they are.
I ask my students what THEY hope to learn during this school year Click To Tweet
I know we have objectives to meet. I know we have curriculum to follow. But we need to remember that our students, even young ones, need to have a say in what they are learning. We all know that students who take an active role in their learning not only learn material better because they have a point of reference to springboard from, but they retain the information longer. And most of the objectives and curriculum we teach from are actually interesting to our young learners, at least when presented properly.
So I spent Friday afternoon just talking with my class. I learned about interests in everything from books to food. I learned about home life more than what was on an enrollment form or the ‘Get To Know Me’ form I send home. I learned about outside activities that my students are involved in. I learned about summer vacations and camps. I learned about parent jobs. And once I combined all of that information, I was able to link every classroom goal and grade level objective to ‘stuff’ that my students had told me about! And this is the even more exciting part: my lesson planning just got a whole lot easier! Being able to introduce new material by talking about a story that Johnny told us or a camp that little Susie went to will grab my audience a heck of a lot more than my horse and pony shows that I had planned. Plus it makes teaching the material more interesting to me as well. And when we talk about something that one of my students has done or experienced, they will have input which covers a ton of objectives that everyone needs to have, like speaking and communicating with a group, demonstrating knowledge, recalling events and being able to support material with facts, to name a few.
How do you involve your students in having a say in what they learn?

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