Chris Lehmann, on his Practical Theory blog, has recently written about empowering students as opposed to engaging them in school. He makes some very good points, especially for his high school students. He states that student engagement in school is more about having fun than about learning, and he cites video games, Facebook , and other “fun” activities as engaging for kids. Instead, Chris argues that we should be empowering students, and not just engaging them, as he writes:
Empowerment feels better to me. It, in the end, is the word — the idea — that sets us up for a more student-centered classroom because it is about what the students get from the experience once the class is done, not what happens during the class.
I can see how this works for high school or middle school students. But, how does student empowerment translate into an elementary school? Are kids who are still learning basic skills ready to be empowered? Or, is engaging them in learning these skills more important at this age?
Interestingly, and maybe a little disturbing to me, is that I talk about student engagement all the time with teachers. This is something I look for as I visit classrooms and observe students and teachers. Are the students truly engaged in the activities, or are they off task and disengaged? When I see engaged students, I usually see enthusiastic students at the same time.
If Chris is right, how do we empower young children in school? Or, an even more difficult question is whether young children are ready to be empowered. This is a very difficult idea for elementary teachers to deal with because there is so much pressure to teach students to read, write, and compute, especially in grades K-3.
I have spent much time working with my staff to develop authentic learning opportunities for our students. Is that empowerment or just expanded engagement?
Around 3rd grade, students move from learning to read to reading to learn. Maybe this is the point at which they should be empowered to take ownership of their learning.