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Students And Control

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No rules, no homework, no curriculum: is this an ideal learning environment or a detrimental one? Students often find school boring or unnecessary, especially when learning about topics that don’t interest them. When students are taught subjects which they enjoy, they’re more engaged, and more eager to learn. In order for students to receive the rich benefits of true learning, teachers should allow students to have more influence over their education. One way teachers could do this, is to set time apart each day for students to explore the topics they find interesting. Or, they could let students choose how they would like to learn the required curriculum. Giving students complete power over their education is another option, though it is extreme. While students should have more control, too much responsibility can be harmful as well. Everything in moderation.

Giving students more control could be as simple as setting time apart each day for students to explore subjects they enjoy. Maricela Montoy-Wilson is a teacher at a school in Palo Alto called Aspire Public School. She has begun a classroom routine called “Inspiration Time”, which allows students to learn about some topics that spark their interest. Each day, this teacher has a designated time where students can learn about topics they enjoy. They can do research, present their knowledge to the class, or sign up to get help from their peers on things that they were struggling with in class. Inspiration Time is where students can, “reflect and consider where they have gaps in their learning,” (Montoy- Wilson). They could ask their peers for help with learning topics that were briefly discussed in class, or do research on new topics that they express an interest in. This has helped students to build connections with one another by asking each other for help in reaching their goals, and helping classmates pursue a common interest. Some teachers say that there simply isn’t time in the schedule to do something like this, as they do have to teach to meet the standards of a certain curriculum. However, Montoy- Wilson states that, “It would be easy to look at my schedule and think implementing Inspiration Time is impossible. But I have found this time has made the rest of my day more meaningful. Making space for this type of learning and exploration has produced some incredible results.” (Montoy- Wilson). This show how these students are given space to grow and learn, and this teacher sees the importance of that in their lives. Students should be engaged in their learning; this “Inspiration Time” helps the teachers to step back and give the students control over what they learn, benefitting them as they learn life skills.

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If teachers were to give students even more influence over their education, it might look something like the situation at Pittsfield Middle High School in New Hampshire. An 11th grade class at this school tested out Student-Oriented learning for three years. This is a teaching method where, instead of being taught traditionally, the teachers tell the kids their learning requirements, then ask, “how do you want to learn this?” As Jenny Wellington, an English teacher at this school states, “I’m giving [students] a point of focus, but I’m not telling them what to think” (Richmond). The teachers monitor the students and help each one learn in their personalized way. The students are seated not by age, but by proficiency in certain subjects. This class is giving students an idea of real-world experiences, and they’re learning how to cooperate with each other, instead of just being told what to do. The students discuss ideas and, “keep track of how often each of them contributes to the conversation, setting goals both for themselves and for the class overall,” (Richmond). The teacher still plays a part, she sometimes directs the conversation in a certain way, but usually, she just hangs back and lets the students take over. While this does give the students much more control over their learning, there are a few issues that come hand in hand with Student- Oriented learning. For one thing, this was only tried out in an English class. While letting students talk about their opinions may be beneficial in English, the students need more instruction in a Mathematics class, especially since there are more right and wrong answers. In addition, during state testing, the numbers show that, “until 2011, Pittsfield had been on an upward trend for several years, but during the past two school years (the years that they’ve tried this new learning style), scores have fallen,” (Richmond). Also, “60% percent of the teachers and administrators at the middle-high school have been replaced, in part because some staff members rejected the shift to student-centered learning,” (Richmond). So, this shows that giving students more responsibility requires a trade-off: Higher test scores and respect, for choice and controversy. Teachers are seeing students becoming more perceptive to the curriculum, and argue that the test scores are less important than learning important life lessons. This learning method lets students choose how they learn the material, and this much control has both pros and cons to it. This is why teachers must give students power only in moderation. The more influence that students have, the more consequences come along with it.

Even more extreme, is where teachers give up all power to the students. There is no homework, no actual classrooms, and students may decide to do whatever they want to do at school. Does such a school exist? Yes, these are called Sudbury Schools, and they’re sprinkled throughout the United States. These are schools where students are allowed to choose their curriculum. Students not only are responsible for choosing what they learn, they may also choose how they learn. As the article says, “Sudbury school students have total control over what they learn, how they learn, their educational environment and how they are evaluated,”(Collins). The students are treated as equals to the staff, and students of all ages are mixed, so everyone is able to learn from everyone. The students have a say in absolutely everything, from deciding the school rules, to picking what they want to learn, to voting on which staff members are hired (or re-hired) the next year. If students express an interest in a certain career path, the staff will help them pursue it by, “by actively teaching a subject, recommending a book or other reference material, identifying an outside resource or setting up an internship.” (Collins). Sudbury advocates say that when students choose what to learn themselves, they retain the information that they learned, better than if someone else decides what the student will learn. Skeptics wonder if Sudbury students are successful in life, or if they will be able to go to college, but based on reports of past students, “87% of the graduates continue on to some form of further education; 4-year college, community college, performing arts school, culinary institute, etc.” (Collins). So, these schools give students more of a say in their education, and they produce successful members of our society. It all sounds too good to be true, and unfortunately, just like Student- Oriented learning, there are negatives that come along with Sudbury Schools. The most apparent setback is the cost. Sending a child to one of these schools can cost anywhere from $4,500 to $8,051 per school year. In addition to the expensive cost, it takes a responsible student to take it upon themselves to really learn what they need to, and so this form of learning doesn’t work for all students. Mark Oppenheimer, who visited Sudbury Schools and investigated the productiveness of such a school, says that, “The Sudbury staff and students will be the first to say that the model only works because everyone there chose it. Only students committed to the philosophy can be expected to make it work, and that’s an unusual subset of students.” (Oppenheimer). Letting students have this much control could backfire, because only students who can deal with the responsibilities that come with all that power will thrive. And that’s a select few. Keeping that in mind, along with the other negative aspects such as cost, it is easy to see that Sudbury Schools don’t accommodate the majority of learners, and too much power for any one group is not always a good thing.

When students have a say in their education, they are more open to learning, and school is more enjoyable. Students should be encouraged to ask questions, to dig deeper, to learn about subjects that interest them, beyond just the standard curriculum. Maricela Montoy-Wilson did this with “Inspiration Time” where students could do research and dive into their learning. Montoy-Wilson saw that giving her students power over what they wanted to learn, helped them to make real-world connections and experience the magic of feeling engaged in learning. At the school in New Hampshire, a class took it in a different direction by giving students the curriculum, then letting them control how they learn. The students learned how to cooperate with each other, instead of just being told what to do by a teacher. However, there were some problems with this learning style, such as low test scores, and teachers and parents disagreeing with giving students this much responsibility. Now at Sudbury Schools, students are given complete authority over what they learn and how they learn, which is even more responsibility. This model of learning was found to function properly with only a select group of students, plus the steep cost makes it a bit more undesirable. So, if students are given the power to choose, it works best when they may only control certain aspects of their learning. Teachers who give students more influence, but not total domination, have seen great things happen in their students’ learning process because of it. Teachers, school boards, and students need to reevaluate the distribution of power among them, because if students are given a little more control, a whole new world of possibilities could open up.

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Students And Control. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
“Students And Control.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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