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Saturday / July 22

Teaching Students to Teach Themselves

Teaching Students to Teach Themselves

A central key message in the Visible Learning research is the importance of developing students who can be their own teachers. Professor Hattie has stated, “Children come to school to watch teachers work!” He advocates that we re-think ways in which we can make learning visible so that students become the directors of their own learning. How can we flip the dominant pervasive practice of teachers doing all the talking, all the thinking, and all the work in the classroom? One way is to cultivate an environment that is based on a high level of respect, trust, and expectations. This communicates powerfully to students that they can indeed be the directors of their own learning—in fact, be their own teachers.

So some considerations for developing students as their own teachers….

1. It’s about how we think…

What stops us as a profession in striving to build cultures of thinking and student self-regulation in our classrooms? John Hattie has outlined 9 Mindframes that underpin our pedagogical actions, the choices we make about the language we use with students, how we group them, and the kinds of structures we have in place that enable (or constrain) a student’s capacity to be their own teacher. Let’s take it a step further. I strongly believe that “who we are is how we teach…” so let’s do a check in on the kinds of “people” we are striving to develop in our classrooms and how we relate to them. How often do we consider this? Do we believe that fundamental to our role is our capacity to change the learning trajectories of students? To challenge existing norms that often position students according to their achievement levels? Do we strive to imagine the possibilities of how we can situate powerful instructional approaches that have a positive impact on student achievement, or do we settle for those that we just know and do? Can we equalise the ‘playing field’ for all students by letting them in on how they can be their own teachers? How do we think about what we do every day? Do we take an uncritical and unquestioning stance or do we seek to challenge and disrupt the ways things have always been to invite change and innovation? These questions need to be asked frequently.

2. Ask students “HOW?” It’s about having the trust…

If students are to be their own teachers then it’s only logical that we would begin by actually asking them, “How could you be your own teacher?” The power of consulting with students cannot be underestimated – what a high level of trust teachers express when they actually ask students to make important contributions to what is after all their learning environment. What a deep level of respect we could show our students if we actually inform them that we want to privilege knowing what they think, how they think, and how this can be used as a basis to improve everyone’s learning. Peter Johnston advocates for “noticing and naming” learning in the classroom. What opportunities exist where we can “notice and name” the multiplicity of learning interactions, misconceptions about learning, and daily examples where students demonstrate learning?

In one early years classroom I used to take photos of students at work independently and with their peers, and ask them to notice what is going on in the photo. What do you notice about the learning that is happening? What do you notice about the way the students are interacting with each other? What materials are being used to help the learning? Why do you think so? How do you like to learn? What do you do if you get stuck?

These questions seek to uncover and understand the often everyday interactions that, if left unnoticed and unnamed, remain invisible. What emerged were students who were much more attuned to their learning environment, to how they operate, to what helps them learn important considerations on the journey to become their own teachers. A simple yet powerful way to encourage students to self-reflect yet gain a deeper understanding of themselves as learners.

3. Build in deliberate practice time…C.A.T. time!

One way to reinforce the notion of children being their own teachers is to explicitly provide time for them to actually “be” their own teachers and the teachers of their peers. A simple yet powerful instructional approach I developed with my students was called C.A.T. time, Children As Teachers. Students were explicitly taught “how” to teach themselves and others. When students were taught a new strategy, they were provided with success criteria to enable them to become proficient in using the strategy and to support their peers as well. Children each had a C.A.T. partner who they worked with daily to practice the strategy using the success criteria with the purpose of gaining independence. It required time and effort, but once students had an understanding of the high expectations I set for them to relate to their peers they reached a level where they could be their own teachers.

This was particularly in reading where I consulted with them to map out their reading progress, co-designed their success criteria and reinforced my expectations for their learning until they reached a point where they could do this independently.

So what will be the first step you take in communicating to students that in your classroom you are going to start to work together to develop your students as teachers?

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Written by

Jenny Sesta is a highly experienced and dedicated educational consultant with over 18 years of experience in Primary School Education. She has a particular passion for developing instructional approaches that have the most significant impact on student achievement and progress. Jenny has worked as a school leader for over 10 years, as a Literacy Coach and a Visible Learning Impact Coach.

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