What do students want?

Published by Lori Pickert on October 18, 2008 at 02:15 PM


Most teachers have a fairly good idea of what they want from students. They want students to become people who can think intelligently and creatively, communicate clearly and expressively, critique freely, work for the common good, and link consciousness to conduct (Ayers, 1991).

But what do students want from teachers? — “Instructional Design for Inquiry”



Comment by Stephanie on October 18, 2008 at 05:54 PM

One of my children just spoke with me about this last week. He would like student's opinions to be respected, for their voices to count.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 18, 2008 at 05:59 PM

how old is your son, stephanie?

Comment by Stephanie on October 18, 2008 at 06:19 PM

11, in the 6th grade. The comment welled up from some frustration he is having with one of his teachers - he finds her a bit overbearing.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 18, 2008 at 06:42 PM

many teachers would be taken aback asked this question. whether teaching in a classroom or leading your own children at home, many adults automatically take an authoritarian role. turning things around and saying, what do you think *they* want — well, it’s a good thing to think about.

Comment by Megan on October 19, 2008 at 02:23 AM

I've been thinking about this very thing for some time - I am not sure they know what they want, really... just like it is difficult for me to articulate what I want at times...

But then, it also seems to me that they want things that are not good for them as well. Things that are merely expedient, or fun, or tasty-sweet.

So, my solution has recently been to give them a portion of control (not all of it, but not NONE of it either) over their school day, and lots of free time in the morning and at lunch for legos or cardboard house making, or whatever happens to be the game d'jour. It hasn't eliminated all of the frustration, but at least they know they are being listened to and their feelings and preferences consulted.

Also, I am trying to listen intentionally to the things they are saying throughout the day in their actions and choices, and collect them in MY project notebook (THEY are my project, right?) I'll cut it short here, but I go into more detail on my blog.


Also, following Lori's excellence advice, I have given over the afternoons to their inquiry based learning "projects," while retaining their first morning efforts for my teacher-directed "nuts and bolts" lessons and activities. It has been a good balance for us. Occasionally I reassess to see if I can improve, and I try to listen to their ongoing ideas and expressions.

One thing my older boy requested was time to work on his Cub Scout awards. So now Friday mornings he and his brother do the "scout stuff" they are interested in. So now they give me 4 mornings of nuts and bolts, and they get Friday morning for being scouts. Works for me. Works for them.

Comment by kosenrufu mama on October 19, 2008 at 07:37 AM

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Comment by Lori Pickert on October 19, 2008 at 12:25 PM

megan - i disagree. i think most children in a learning relationship do have an opinion about what they want from their teacher/parent *in that learning relationship*.

also - it sounds like you are equating child-led learning with candy for breakfast?

and - to clarify - my recommendation for someone who is using a traditional school-style curriculum who wants to incorporate project learning is to set aside some part of your day or week for child-directed project work. obviously, if you are unschooling, then this is your entire curriculum -- supporting your child while they teach themselves. if you are an eclectic homeschooler and fall somewhere in the vast middle, you could choose to make project work the main focus of your learning and teach directly any basic skills that weren’t covered. Or, you might simply make time for children to work on a project along with what you were doing before.

Project learning is an approach, not a method. It works with any style of homeschooling or unschooling.

Comment by Megan on October 19, 2008 at 11:09 PM

"i think most children in a learning relationship do have an opinion about what they want from their teacher/parent *in that learning relationship*."

I was taking the idea very broadly, and applying it across the board in my ongoing relationship with my students / kids. I was thinking about the variety of ways that I impose my goals and desires on them, and was challenged to think about what THEY might want. It is interesting as both teacher / students AND and mom /children, the learning relationship and the living relationship edges blur and intermingle somewhat with home education.

My analogy to "candy for breakfast" was not meant to cast aspersions on child-led learning. Far from it. I was thinking out loud about how to respond with gentle direction when what the student / child WANTS seems to be more bad than good for that child.

for example:

J has insightful ideas, and makes creative, interesting connections between ideas and subjects that are thrilling to discover. But he dislikes writing - and I have not aggressively pushed him to improve, only praised and encouraged his efforts and attempted to inspire him to want to write his ideas down on paper. But he doesn't want to, and it has been like pulling teeth to get him to do so, so now what we have neglected because of his lack of desire is seriously limiting him in his ability to express his ideas in a way that lasts beyond the conversation of the moment.

Written down (like those wonderful Art History Journal pages showed us) the ideas and the discovery and the process can be captured, relived, and used as a springboard for further investigation. But ideas are lost when they are not preserved. And J's ideas are often lost because he does not WANT to write them down.

So that's the candy in the analogy - choosing what you WANT (not writing) at the expense of the good (writing for reading and communicating later.) The candy is the "want" that has dubious benefit down the road.

I guess I was exploring where I must step in and direct (please write something down about this really cool thing you just learned so we can enjoy it again later, or you can show daddy, etc.) and where I can step back and allow their desires to direct (he asked to type instead - and so that's what we do now.).

I am more and more convinced that inquiry based learning is the best approach for true learning. I am merely trying to determine when I need to put my apron on and serve up some tasty AND nutritious breakfast to lure them away from the candy they want right at that moment.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 20, 2008 at 04:28 AM

it seems like you *are* comparing child-led learning with candy for breakfast.

you say: “I am merely trying to determine when I need to put my apron on and serve up some tasty AND nutritious breakfast to lure them away from the candy they want right at that moment.”

the point is to allow your child to direct their own learning. you can’t do that if you insert yourself and start telling them what to do and how to do it. you will kill off their interest and defeat the entire purpose of letting them discover that they can be in charge of their own learning. it’s about giving them the chance to be in charge.

you are attempting to incorporate an inquiry-based project within the limits of a traditional curriculum. you can address any basic skills acquisition within the traditional part of your curriculum. that is not the focus of this type of learning.

there are basic skills, and there is the *application* of basic skills.

there is the ability to read and write, and there is the *desire* to read and write.

the point of allowing children to learn in this way is to allow them the opportunity to *use* their skills for doing something important to *them*. and if they don’t want to write, presumably they will find another way to express themselves. that is the ninety-nine from the hundred languages poem.

Comment by Leisa on October 20, 2008 at 01:20 PM

This discussion has really made me think...

When we were working on the art history journals- the boys were totally engaged on what they were doing. They were reading about da Vinci's designs for giant catapults and studying his drawings of skeletons. They took notes about what they thought might be important- not what I said was important. They needed notes to create their journal (which also included watercolors, charcoal drawings, scratchboards). More than anything, they were making these journals for themselves- and wanted to teach and show others. It was the engagement in the subject matter that drove their desire to read, study, write, and draw.

Generally, I would choose the artist of study- beginning with da Vinci because I knew that his drawings and mirrored writing etc. would be of interest to the class. Da Vinci was easy- there are so many books and resources. Other artists- I wasn't so sure what would catch the attention- like Picasso's Guernica. Which led them into discussions about the Nazis and war. Or Ansel Adams which led to environmental discussions. All of this happened because they cared about it- and I did my best to fan the flame.

Comment by Megan on October 21, 2008 at 02:04 PM


Thanks for helping me work these ideas out. I appreciate your insights and your patience with me as I wrangle with new concepts and ideas. It's great to be
both challenged and inspired.


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