Control in Your Classroom
Dr. Kathie F. Nunley
school students fight the teacher. Unlike elementary and college
classrooms, high school students and teachers seem to have conflicting
agendas. Rather than being on the same team, teachers and students
often experience the "us versus them" game. Teacher burnout at the
secondary level can be attributed to exhaustion from years of this
common battle that is rarely discussed. As students graduate high
school and move into college they magically change teams. Now the
instructors and students seem once more to be on the same side with
the same focus of direction, which is to see the student succeed.
This change comes from a shift in the student's perception of how
much control they have over their learning situation.
Psychologists believe the most important factor in stress level
is perception of control. When people feel they have control, they
feel less stress. By changing the power structure in your classroom
from teacher to student, a teacher can change the student's perception
of control. The responsibility for learning shifts from the teacher
to the student. This happens when teachers empower students to make
their own learning decisions. Now the student, not the teacher,
takes the blame or the credit for the education. The student looks
to the teacher as a facilitator of learning and the battleground
disappears from the classroom. By acknowledging the power or control
students have over their own learning, you can ultimately have classes
that are "under control". In other words, in order to gain control
you have to give up some control.
This shift may be uncomfortable for many teachers. You may need
to start small and try to increase the time spent on self-directed
study gradually. Here are some simple ideas that can be implemented
immediately and return big payoffs in terms of increased learning
and reduced stress for both teacher and student:
of assigning class and homework, offer an assortment of learning
a wide variety of assignments, addressing as many styles and interests
as possible. Activities may vary in terms of length of time required
and point value.
the student to choose which assignments they want to do to meet
the point requirements for that unit.
to include enough assignment choices so that even the non-readers
or low reading ability students can have success.
choices may include lecture, video, computer programs, book work,
posters, modeling clay, poetry, construction of a board game, flash
cards, mobiles, book reports, video performance.
the students freedom to come up with their own creative assignments.
Variety is key to leading rather than managing your students.
Dr Kathie Nunley is an educational psychologist, researcher and
author of several books on parenting and teaching, including A Student's
Brain (Brains.org) and the best selling, "Differentiating the High
School Classroom" (Corwin Press). She is the developer of the Layered
Curriculum® method of instruction and has worked with parents and
educators around the world to better structure schools to make brain-friendly
environments. In addition, her work has been used by the Boeing
Corporation, Family Circle Magazine, the Washington Post, and ABC
her: Kathie (at) brains.org