THE BLOG
01/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Empowering Middle & High School Students

It was a class of mainly juniors in a history class. Their teacher was my intern teacher and I supervised him. He was one of the best teachers I'd ever seen. I asked to speak to his class. He agreed.

"I know you kids are happy with Mr. Green, but there are teachers that you would rather not take and subjects that you think you could learn on your own. What if I said there may be a way for you to be able to choose your teachers or to learn on your own, would you be interested?"

They became very excited and started yelling about not having to take Mr. Blank's class. "First of all, I don't want to know who you want or don't want; it's unprofessional and unfair because I don't want to diss a teacher without him having a chance to respond. Second, I need to know how many of you have or have access to the internet?"

All raised their hands. " In college you can challenge a class that you think you can pass. There's usually a comprehensive test you have to pass. If you pass you get credit."

"Could we study at home or how about a group working together?"

"You're ahead of me, but yes and yes. Teachers are expected to have a year plan and a syllabus that would include all the assignments and tests as well as the materials necessary. You or your group could ask for and look at what the teacher has prepared for that class. You would be enrolled in the class so the teacher would get credit for your attendance, but he would have fewer students in class so he would be less defensive about your challenge. He reaps a benefit too."

"So, do we have to do the stuff and take the tests the same time his class does? If we don't, doesn't that make more work for him?"

"If a teacher doesn't want to participate, I don't think he should be forced to do so. There should be enough teachers who see the value for them. Less students in class, but responsible for some paperwork."

"But teachers may get pissed if a lot of us asked to work on our own rather than take his class."

"True, but this is the kind of feedback you need to give the administration and to him. If he's smart, he'll use this as a wakeup call and examine why he isn't getting the students. At first many may feel that this is just a popularity contest with the easy teachers getting kids. I feel it is a means for them to share some of their power, but you have to prove that you can accept your share of the responsibility for your education."

"What if we fail the tests?"

"You fail, no credit. You're saying you're responsible and competent enough to pass - on your own. I believe many of you can do this, but it'll take a number of you petitioning the school board for the chance to prove it."

They were excited. I left a note for the principal, but he never responded. The kids either didn't follow through or gave up and the idea died.

Like any change it takes more than an idea. It takes people who are willing to do the legwork, the appointments and meetings with those with the power to give the initial permission to try it out.

This would do the following.

*Avoid many of the reasons students get bored, frustrated, angry, and drop out of school.

*Give students the opportunity to take real responsibility for their learning.

* Give students actual choices in selecting and organizing their learning.

* Give students experiences in facing the logical consequences of their choices.

* Motivate teachers whose classes are challenged to think about what it is that they do that turn kids off. They can't keep blaming them totally for their failures. They would have to be more accountable.

* Reward good teachers, as kids would be requesting their classes and students could petition to be in their classes and those teachers could select the ones they want. Good teachers would not choose just the best academic students.

* It would cause many to rethink the teacher/lecture method. It was the most efficient before technology and new techniques to individualize instruction were known and now available. It isn't now!

* It would give teachers and students new ways of learning that could emphasize clearer thinking and thinking in depth.