Today, I had the chance to observe an English class that gave me even greater insight into students attitudes towards their learning. The students (ages 16-17) talked about their opinions regarding the statements pictured below:
Here's what the students had to say about each of the questions from the exercise (Questions in bold, student answers in italics):
1. Students who do well in tests get a lot of help from their parents. No. It's my job to study and do well.
2. When you fail a test, it's because you didn't work hard enough. Yes. I needed to put in more time.
3. Regular study leads to good results. Yes, of course.
4. Students try harder if they are rewarded or punished. No. I don't agree with that. You should work hard because you want to do well and get good marks.
At this point, my colleague and I jumped into the conversation and talked about some of the elaborate reward and consequence systems utilized in our schools. The kids, and even their teacher, were quite surprised to hear about the many incentives offered to students for simply doing their work. They were more familiar with the concept of consequences, like detention.)
5. If you fail a test, it's your own fault, no one else's. Yes. Who else's fault could it be?
6. When you get things wrong, it's because the teacher didn't explain them well enough. No. You could ask the teacher to explain it again if something is confusing.
7. Students tend to blame others for their difficulties and failures. No.
8. You can do better next time by learning from your mistakes. Yes, but it's an annoying way to learn.
9. If you like the teacher, you like the subject. Yes.
10. Doing well in a subject depends on whether or not the teacher likes you. It's complicated. Teachers sometimes spend more time with students that need more help.
11. Girls study harder than boys. Yes, but both can study hard.
12. It's difficult to find time for homework because it's also important to have time for your friends and hobbies. Yes.
As a follow up, I asked the students how much homework they have, and they reported that they get homework very rarely. The teacher confirmed that at the level of education we were observing (Grade 10), homework is not common. In Finland, Grade 10 is an optional school year that students take if they have not yet made a decision if they will attend academic high school or vocational school. Students can also enroll in Grade 10 if they need extra support or if they want to improve their grades before applying to the high school or vocational school of their choice.
13. If you don't like a subject, there's no point in trying to do well in it. That's wrong. I might need it in the future.
14. Doing well in school is important for your future. Yes.
15. Some things are not worth learning because you'll never need them in life. Yes.
This response was interesting to me, and I think it relates back to the level of choice students have at the secondary level. By choosing specific vocational tracks, for example, students are able to tailor their education to their strengths, without the worry of learning tasks that may be more challenging to them and unnecessary to their future career path. Even students in the academic high school can select courses that focus on their strengths, even having the chance to select which subjects they are tested in for their final matriculation exams.
How are these answers similar to what your students might say? How are they different?
To me, the majority of the responses illustrate the point that students here are aware of their own learning and have a high level of intrinsic motivation in their approach towards school. But how did the students gain this perspective? Here, students are taught to think about their own learning. They openly talk about their strengths and challenges from a very young age and learn to recognize what extra needs they might have. Talking about learning (and learning difficulties) is not seen as a taboo or a weakness to be hidden, but rather it is used as a tool for empowerment. Students, as young as 1st grade, are included in parent teacher conferences and IEP meetings and in age appropriate ways, they are a part of the conversation about their own learning. Students that learn to think about their own thinking can be more active participants in learning. They are better prepared to advocate for themselves, make choices based on their strengths, and not feel stigmatized because of learning differences. As a special educator, I can see the value in this approach. Helping kids to understand the way that they learn will give them greater ownership of every aspect of their lives in school and beyond.
In your classroom, how do you help students become aware of their own learning? What strategies encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning?