Seven Steps to Empower Your Students

When I learned to teach students, it was a different world. Forty years ago, I was much younger and my methods were more about one-way communication. It was all about lecture, drill, memorization and test. Today, students come from a different culture, but teachers are often still about “classroom management.” Students check out mentally; fall asleep and get distracted. And we get frustrated.

So, why don’t students feel empowered? They have the world at their fingertips!

Making Progress with Students

Many teachers today are moving from classroom management to student engagement. I believe there are four levels of student participation, as we move from trying to control them to learning to connect with them. From yesterday, I suggested the four levels of teaching students are:

  1. Attendance.  You get their bodies in the room.
  2. Involvement. You get their will in the room.
  3. Engagement. You get their minds in the room.
  4. Empowerment. You get their hearts in the room.

More and more teachers distinguish between student engagement and student empowerment. An essential element for this is increasing their level of metacognition in the learning process. This means students “think about their thinking.” When kids practice metacognition, they reflect on how they learn something new and take ownership of it, rather than assuming the role of consumer. The secret, of course, is that it puts students back on control of their lives and their growth. Believe it or not, this positively impacts and reduces their levels of anxiety.

Action Steps to Help Students Practice Metacognition

For teachers, this may remind you of the concept of “flipped classrooms.” That is certainly one example of enabling students to practice metacognition. I recognize all teachers don’t have the luxury of “flipping their class.” But we can take some simple steps to move students toward metacognition. Here are some ideas you can practice immediately as you enable students to learn:

  1. Create problems without offering solutions. Ask, don’t tell. Bring up a genuine dilemma in our world and suggest the students consider how to resolve it.
  2. At least once a day, refuse to answer a student’s question. Instead, encourage everyone in the class to look up answers and see what they find.
  3. Create disequilibrium. This is that awkward period of silence between the time a problem is clear and the moment a solution arises. Allow for silence and discomfort.
  4. Instead of traditional grading of papers, tests or essays, communicate how many mistakes were made on their project and turn them loose to find each one.
  5. Choose a day and let students plan the entire lesson for the class period. In fact, let them record themselves teaching it, evaluating themselves afterward.
  6. In your next exam, write in the wrong answers on those blanks—the very ones students have given in class. Let students grade the test, finding the proper answers.
  7. Ask students to pick a topic they feel they’ve mastered, (a video game, a sport or a social media app). Then, have them write down how they mastered it and discuss it.

For parents, you can also help your kids do this at home.

  1. When taking a trip, ask your child to “own” a responsibility, such as determining the route you take and handling the GPS; deciding when you’ll make stops for food, fuel and hotels; or what points of interest you’ll focus on.
  2. As they mature, begin turning over adult tasks to them as a point of learning, including doing their own laundry, paying for their car or insurance, choosing the menu for meals, even sitting down with you to experience paying the bills.
  3. If you have more than one child, ask the older ones to teach the young ones certain tasks or projects they will need to learn as they grow older. What if your ten year old taught your six-year old how to make their bed or load the dishwasher?
  4. Sit down and pay the family bills together. Even though you’re ultimately paying them, let them see the expenses and help choose what to buy and what to wait on.
  5. Plan experiences or service projects together and share the responsibility with them (or even give all the responsibility to them. ) Allow them to feel others depending on them for their effort.
  6. Regarding homework, let them determine when and where and how they will get the tasks done. As an adult, the key is for you to ask yourself: What is the point? If the point is, indeed, that they get the homework or chores finished, then how they do it should be up to them, as long as it’s done to the agreed upon standard.
  7. Don’t think “prescriptive” think “descriptive.” In order for your young people to practice metacognition (and hence reduce the anxiety in their life) be sure you don’t tell them to do something, prescribing every step on how they should get it done. Instead, describe together the vision or goal to be accomplished, then let them decide how they’ll achieve it.

Here’s to you empowering your students, for your sake and theirs.

Seven Steps to Empower Your Students