Helping Kids Grow Into Themselves as Students

Posted by Monica Crowley on 12/3/2018 7:00:00 AM

Helping Kids Grow Into Themselves as Students

Since the beginning of the public schooling movement in the U.S., educators have worked to support students in becoming independent, autonomous learners. In 1848, Horace Mann wrote that pupils “must learn for themselves” by “putting forth personal effort.” Otherwise, he noted, ideas learned in school would “find no permanent lodgment” in the mind of the student. Despite this early guidance, teacher-directed activities such as lectures and assignments with little choice have been the predominant modes of teaching and learning in U.S. schools.

In my first few months at Lawrence, I’ve observed that students at our school have real opportunities to work with independence. In first grade, students wrote not one small moment narrative but many, moving on to further stories independently after finishing the first one. In fourth and fifth grades, students in a number of classes have begun discussing books in book clubs, where they can set the agenda themselves, prepare with questions, and set their own assignments, just as adults might do!

In middle school, students have had opportunities to work as independent leaders both inside the classroom and out. I frequently see 8th grade partners helping in the classrooms of younger students, and last week 6th through 8th grade students chaperoned students at movie day with ownership and caring. At Farm School, I saw 7th grade students take responsibility for cooking dinner, feeding animals, and more. As the year goes along, we will continue to put our older students in positions where they need to rise to challenges, and students will grow because of it.

Of course, when students are asked to work independently, we more often see them struggle. We see this struggle as desirable, productive, and even a little scary, as we so want to see students succeed. Teachers have a number of ways of helping students when they struggle, including working with them in small groups, showing mentor examples of student work, and more. I’ve also been so impressed by the work of the specialists who support students in literacy, math, English language skills, and more, many of whom are not known by everyone in our school. They know so much about their students and the subject matter that they teach, and their work with teachers helps all students at our school.

In an era in which we have information at our fingertips, technology has helped all of us become more independent, curious learners. In only a few months at Lawrence school, I’ve seen so many opportunities for our students to work with autonomy, and be supported in doing so.

Peter Cipparone

Vice Principal