When we talk about the need for student cooperation, we usually mean we want them to obey us; i.e. the standard for cooperation is doing what they are told.
If we want students to truly cooperate, co-operate, they need to know the operating manual of the class. They need to know what they can do, and be scaffolded to do it well.
I started sharing with educators in my workshops, seminars and courses a short list of actions students can take in order to be more successful as learners, to co-operate as partners during a lesson. I’ve been asking teachers whether their students truly know and actively demonstrate that they can ask to:
- Sit by the window
- Hear directions again
- Take a quiet break
- Choose a work partner
- Have more time
- Have that translated
- Answer in private
- Get step-by-step directions
- See a finished example
This list, and the conversations that it generates, have been among the most well received parts of my teaching—and perhaps the most quickly implemented by teachers of students of every age. The list has grown (write to me at [email protected] for the expanded current version), as teachers working with students in various grades identified the possibilities for self-advocacy in their curricula, within the developmental capabilities of their students, and within the resources and limitations of their rooms: first graders learn how to get a much needed hug; high school students learn how to have the grade on an assignment reconsidered. What had been an implicit part of our collective operating manual is now explicit and in place for co-operation.
For instance, as a lesson begins, the teacher and class look at their self-advocacy list, and the teacher says, “I’m thinking for this task you should advocate to take notes on blank paper, lined paper, or graph paper. What else might you all need to advocate for in this lesson? Oh yes, thank you, I will make sure the step-by-step directions are clearly numbered.”
I like to imagine a school in which the leadership works with the staff to develop a uniform set of student self-advocacy rights—a school in which students hear as often as “put the date on top of your paper” to self-advocate, and are given the tools to do so. I imagine with each passing year students gain more of these rights, and become more reflective about what supports them being successful learners. I think we can do it right away—given how many teachers I have worked with have quickly embraced this opportunity. For sure, any teacher on their own today can build a unique and explicit culture of student self-advocacy.
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