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Empowering Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

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Growth mindset. Student learning objectives. Student success. These terms are referred to frequently in education today, but how does a teacher empower students to take control of their own learning and feel like they are active participants as opposed to simply being consumers in the classroom and school in general? As the end of a nine-week grading period marking the halfway point in the class came to a close this week, I knew this was an opportunity to give students a chance to reflect on their learning process and their grade through a midterm mini-conference. Here’s my process: 

I created a quick but reflective survey administered through Google forms. The survey asked students to consider what gains they had made in the class as well as areas of continued struggle. Students also answered a couple of questions about what activities have been most beneficial thus far and how I as an instructor could help them grow in their skills. Since I wanted students to answer questions about the class and my instruction honestly, surveys were submitted anonymously.

After the surveys are submitted, I conducted quick conferences in my office (the hall) with students. Each student came out one at a time while the others remained inside the classroom working independently. The first question I asked was, “Based on your effort and growth, what grade do you think you deserve for this grading period?” I like this question because it forces them to reflect on their contribution and effort in their personal learning. This question doesn’t catch them off guard because they have already considered this topic by completing the survey. Hearing students reflect on their effort and progress can be very enlightening. I am often made aware of issues in their learning and come away with a better understanding of how I can best help students meet goals they set at the beginning of the class. The conference also offers them an opportunity to speak to me privately about their concerns or frustrations.

The most beneficial aspects of the conference for me, however, are twofold: student have a voice and I am able to speak encouragement to each student. These conferences also force students to think about adjustments they may need to make at the halfway point of a course. Sometimes I receive questions about how I am able to justify instructional time taken away from reading and writing for conferring about grades; the question, however, is how can I not take time for conferences if I am moving students toward lifelong learning.

Things to consider for leading students in reflection:


Be sure you are genuinely listening to students


Offer both encouraging and challenging feedback

Keep dialogue ongoing and open with students about learning

Guide students in setting specific personal learning goals

Provide formal and informal avenues for students to reflect 


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I am a caffeinated educator with the incredible privilege of teaching high school English and serving as a school leader. This is my seventh year at Northgate High School on the south side of Atlanta where teach AP Literature and also lower level American literature. Having taught in public, private, and home schooled, I am a believer in the system and striving to be a positive influence among both students and educators. At the end of the day, I am glad to settle down to watching something on Netflix with my husband and three kids.

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Guest Saturday, 22 October 2016