Consider What Students Need -- It May Not Be What They Want!

Every teacher and parent knows one universal truth:

One role adults play in children’s lives is directing them toward that which they need, even if it isn’t necessarily what they want.

That is the kind of thing that you can say to almost anybody that is responsible for children and they will nod in agreement.

This week  I had several conversations with educators who shared that something they were trying out in their classroom wasn't exactly what their students wanted to happen. With my lens in technology, you can be sure that these issues revolved around pushback from students in using tech for teaching and learning.  I believe that we should take our students opinions and ideas into consideration when developing our learning environments and plans.  However, my challenge to these teachers, and to all of us is to ask two simple questions:

  • Why are the students pushing back on this practice?
  • Are they getting something they need, even if they don't want it right now?

I'll use an example of one of my former students.  I did a lot of project-based learning in my English classroom, and we used technology quite often (NO, not every day! And that is okay!).  She was adamant that my teaching style and use of technology did not fit her learning style, that she learned more in other classes, and that she hated having to use technology in her classes.

I spoke with her regularly about what I could do better, what I could change, how I could better meet her needs as a student. I asked her why it was not working, and I even made some of those suggested changes. But I did not back off of my students taking greater ownership of and responsibility for their learning. I also did not back off of my belief that learning to use the tools we had available gave my students a voice beyond the footprint of my classroom walls, and taught my students how to use technology to be creative, collaborative, productive, and efficient.

In her senior year (when she was no longer in my classes) we were talking and she shared with me the underlying issue to why she complained so often (and loudly) about my class. In summary, she was frustrated in my class because I changed the routine of school. She was really good at playing the game at school. She sat attentively. She showed up on time. She took the notes and completed the homework. She answered questions when asked. 

Her frustration with my class was that those things alone were not enough to get her the results she wanted -- an A in my class.  She was good at writing papers and taking tests. When she had to learn how to use iMovie to make a movie trailer in class (it was much harder then than it is today), that stretched her skills.  When she had to moderate her group book discussion and record it for a podcast, that was a new skill that she had never developed before. When she had to write reflections as she read a novel on the class blog, and then comment on other people's reflections by challenging their thinking, that intellectual discourse in a public venue was new and uncomfortable. She said, "Your class was really hard. I actually had to think about doing what I was doing before I did the work."

The lesson I took from that student is that sometimes our students push back on what is happening in class, and we need to listen and consider what they are really saying. And sometimes we need to weigh that against what they are getting from the activity, use of the tool, or instructional method we are using. 

When the instructional benefit to students is essential your students' success or growth, sometimes we have to offer students what they need, even if it isn't exactly what they want.