Most teachers take great pride in being perceived as the proprietors of subject-matter knowledge and the designers of their individual instruction. They firmly believe that they alone should determine what information is conveyed to their students and how it is delivered. Any external or internal entities seeking to influence their decisions about direct pedagogy run the risk of being met with suspicion and rebellion. After all, in current educational environments marked by state-mandated curricula and teach-to-the-test mentalities, having control over the minutes that make up an individual class period is often the only power that many teachers feel they possess. I get it. The need for power is real.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I, too, was afraid to relinquish the power I thought I had over the moments I shared with my students. From the time I closed my classroom door at the beginning of class until the time the bell sounded at the end, I fought with my students to keep complete control over those precious instructional moments. I feared that allowing my students to share their knowledge or suggest ideas for assignments would make me seem weak and ineffective.
I certainly would never have entertained ideas about how to conduct my class or structure my assignments, especially my tests. Now, after many years of being in the teaching profession, I relish the opportunity to receive input from the primary stakeholders in my classes, the students. They are fully aware that I have the final say, but they are also aware that their input is welcomed and often integrated. It is conducive to a positive and productive learning environment.
One example of how I allow students to offer their input is through soliciting questions from them to include on their exams, based on what they consider to be most important. A week or so prior to a major test, I set aside class time during which they are divided into groups and asked to create questions from their notes and from their discussions with each other. I guide them in this endeavor by suggesting types of questions and providing examples. I collect the questions from each group and combine them into a master list that we then review as a class.
Once we have decided which questions are well-stated and are true reflections of the material covered, I select some of the actual test questions from the final list and add them to questions that I would like to ask. This empowers students in a way that is both surprising and refreshing to them. It has worked well. Students have performed much better on their exams because they were allowed to take part in the creation process.
Relinquishing power in this and other ways has aided me in becoming more of a facilitator, a guide-on-the-side. There are still times when I must be the sage-on-the-stage, but I have finally reached a point in my teaching career when I am fine with both roles.