Engaging Adolescent Learners: A Guide for Content-Area Teachers (#5)

“When schools include students in decision-making processes, students form a commitment to their school that results in long-term and tangible benefits”
— Lent, 2006, pp. 126-127

Often times, educators hear the effervescent question, “Why do we have to do this?” A few years back, one of my learners asked me that very question, and I did not have an answer. I sat there, looked at my class, and said, “Why do we have to do this?”  From that point on, I began to question everything I had planned according to my school’s curriculum textbook. Sure, these stories and activities were great, but they were irrelevant to what my learners were interested in and did not reflect their diverse backgrounds.

What my learners needed were relevant, real issues that surrounded them every day, and the opportunity to talk about them and solve them.

Last year, the student council in the middle school worked to get water bottle filling stations in our school. Over a year of hard work and they achieved this. We just had our first water bottle filling station installed last week. This was a huge victory for our learners and for the middle school. The student body needs to know that this decision was made through the hard work of their very own peers, and to see how their voices matter. However, we need to give them these opportunities in the classroom. These are passionate people we get to work with everyday. The opportunity for them to see hard work and long processes achieve something would be a powerful thing.

“The purpose of student-driven action research is for students to develop a sense of inquiry that will remain with them throughout their lives…. It is a method of thinking that creates an interactive relationship between the learner and the content, one that becomes an inherent part of every type of learning”
— Lent, 2006, p. 132

I have been a research junkie all of my life. I have always loved questioning ideas, studying them, experimenting with them, trial and error, etc. I do this in my classroom, and my community of learners knows this. This year, while reading an article on brain development, neuroplasticity, and intrinsic motivation, my learners all had many questions. They wanted to know why people lose motivation, what do people need to love learning, what mindshift do people need to want to learn, etc. These questions about learning and motivation has stuck with us through our entire year. We even have these questions displayed on the board.

Maybe I should let my learners explore these ideas and questions, analyze their peers, read articles and literature on the motivated. Maybe our essential questions should be a stepping stone toward student-driven action research. Asking questions is something we should be teaching our learners. To be curious. To wonder.

Lent, R.C. (2006). Engaging adolescent learners: A guide for content-area teachers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.