Follow the leader: Letting students take ownership
Monday, December 05, 2016
"Follow the leader" is a game in which "the participants copy the actions and words of a person who has been chosen as leader," according to the Oxford Dictionaries. In many ways, this mirrors the instruction of a special educator and her resource students.
Research and best practice has proven that direct instruction is a form of instruction that is effective for students with learning disabilities. In direct instruction, the teacher models what is being taught, then the students copy and practice what was modeled to learn the new information.
Although the modeling and copying methodology of direct instruction is essential for teaching many concepts, teachers must reverse the process and begin to follow the student in order for students to learn to process and think beyond the knowledge stage of learning and thrive within the application and critical thinking stages.
How can a teacher reverse the process and begin to follow the student in learning and instruction? The methodologies of student-centered learning, inquiry-based learning and project-based learning — well documented and researched — provide many formats that educators can use to adapt current teaching practices so that students can engage in "leadership learning."
For special educators who may want to change their teaching craft one small step at a time, there are similar components in the aforementioned instructional methods that can be applied to teaching immediately, without changing instructional philosophies completely.
These instructional methods invite students into planning, decision-making and exploration of concepts, while developing curiosity, questioning and critical thinking skills. Students with learning disabilities need to have opportunities to learn using these principles to avoid being passive receivers of information.
Teachers who use these methodologies become consultative facilitators of learning, rather than directors of learning. As special educators consider the teaching methodology to use for a given concept, the best way to choose whether it should be taught using direct instruction or the "follow the leader" methods is based on how well the student demonstrates independence within his learning.
Is he an active learner who is involved with what is being taught? The key is for the teacher to reflect on current teaching practices and determine who is following whom.
Are the teacher's current teaching practices freeing students to think independently? Do students ask the teacher questions, or is the teacher asking the majority of the questions? Do students share their ideas readily with the teacher or does the teacher have to guide them step by step through a process?
For students with learning disabilities to become the leaders in their learning, teachers have to ask themselves many reflective questions throughout the teaching process, and adjust accordingly if the teacher finds herself leading more than following.
Students with learning disabilities need to be taught using direct instruction, as well as the strategies used in critical thinking methodologies. Teachers must instruct with the goal of challenging students to think critically.
When students with learning disabilities begin to take leadership of their own learning, while guided by the special educator, they will continue to use those same skills in the general education classroom and independently in life. These are 21st-century learning skills, essential for the future of the student.
Special educators must actively teach these skills and guide their student to lead in their own learning.
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