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Students as Meaningful Contributors

Alan November talks about the importance of making students contributors to their own learning. I have been following his work for years (seen him present in person a couple of times too). I have been especially paying attention to his thoughts about how, over the years, it seems that we have taken away the reason/relevance for learning of our children.

Years ago, when farms dominated our landscape, children were responsible for performing meaningful jobs that were vital to each family’s success. [...] Children were essential to the very survival of the family. At the same time, these jobs taught children the value of hard work, leading them to become more productive citizens within their communities as adults.

As mechanized tools and other advances developed, the work of children was replaced. To prepare for the industrial economy, students were required to attend school where teachers became central figures and where children took on more passive roles within their communities. The contributions made by children to their community shifted to the responsibility of completing schoolwork

How often have we heard the moaning from our students and/or own children?

Why do I have to learn this? I will never use it again.

There is even (why would I be surprised?) a facebook group called “I bet 90% if the Stuff we learn in School, I will never use again” It has over 16,000 members…

Facebok Group with over 16,000 members :I bet 90% if the Stuff we learn in School, I will never use again

Maybe we need to start listening to our children. They don’t see the relevance of what they are learning in school. They don’t see how they will apply in real life what they are being asked to learn. So how do we give students back their purpose? Alan November suggests six different roles for developing empowered learners.

Adapted from Alan November (pp.188-193), Curriculum 21 (ASCD, 2010) by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

Here are examples of

  1. Tutorial Designers
  2. Official Scribes
  3. Collaboration Coordinators
  4. Researches
  5. Contributors to Society
  6. Curriculum Reviewers

I must admit, that I have not ventured into working with my students (K-8) to being the “Collaboration Coordinators” and “Curriculum Reviewers”. I would love to read and hear about other teachers who have and are willing to share their experiences.

Please help me collect and add more examples to these by leaving a link and short description in the comment section!

You can read Alan November describe his thoughts about Students as Contributors: The Digital Learning Farm or in Chapter “Power Down or Power Up?” in Hayes Jacobs’ book Curriculum 21 (ASCD, 2010).  Watch this video below where Alan describes the critical need for kids to make a contribution:

Going back to the days of this town [Marblehead, MA]…you were 10 years old, you went to sea and you were an apprentice, you were working, you did not go to Middle School or High School in this town in the 1700s  [...] What we did, I believe, over time…and the irony is that technology did this…because we invented all these kinds of machinery, we don’t need kids working anymore. So we robbed them of their sense of making a contribution to community. I think one of the breakthrough ideas is to change the concept of the learner into someone who becomes a contributor by doing their work. Which means we have to redefine their work.


Find more videos like this on NL Connec

Another person who not only talks about the importance of making students contributors, but who has  walked the walk is Tim Tyson.

Adapted from Tim Tyson (p. 130), Curriculum 21 (ASCD, 2010) by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

The now retired principal of Mabry Middle School (archived site) describes how his school is” Making learning irresistible”. He describes how he extended that vision into the classroom in Heidi Hayes Jacobs’s book “Curriculum 21″.
His school’s

explorations in engaging students to produce meaningful contributions were just fine, tentative steps in moving school practice in a completely new direction. Imagine extending these first awkward steps, infusing them more deeply into instructional practices [...] Would schools proffer a better learning experience if they empowered students themselves, under the professional and informed coaching of their teachers, to actively create high-quality, media rich, digital curricular contributions that are aggregated and shared with learners of all ages, the world over?

Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian Kuhn says:

    We brought Alan to our district back the first time in November 2005 (I think). We were interested in his thoughts on building schools for the future. One of the things that really resonated with me was his thoughts on giving students more control or ownership over their learning. There were many more insites and stories that he shared… one of our secondary school principals referred to that event as “the November awakening”. It started a journey for us to question the status quo and to work to infuse technology in ways to help teachers teach differently, to engage students, and help them be creators and owners of their learning. We still have a long way to go but we’re heading in the right direction.
    .-= Brian Kuhn´s last blog ..Teachers teaching with SMART Boards =-.

  2. Nancy says:

    As Dan Pink states in his book, we are all more motivated when we have a sense of autonomy, master and purpose. Students aren’t given the opportunity to experience those in most classrooms!

  3. [...] Comments Nancy on Students as Meaningful ContributorsIt’s not about the tools | Just pondering on “It’s not about the [...]

  4. John Sowash says:

    Great ideas however I have found that many of the traditional views of education, school, assessment, etc. prevent many forms of authentic learning from taking place. Take social media as an example. Many schools ban teachers from using social media. Until policy changes making students meaningful contributors is going to be difficult. I guess I’m destined to be one of those teachers who pushes the envelope and gets intro trouble!
    .-= John Sowash´s last blog ..New Tool: Wiffiti =-.

  5. Susan Sedro says:

    Great Post!

    You have my brain whirring, looking at each grade’s curriculum and looking where we can change current projects into activities that fill at least one of these roles.

    Thanks for getting me thinking.

  6. Thanks for mentioning Kids for Kenya! Last night at our Teacher-librarian Virtual Cafe Webinar for school librarians, Chris Harris was saying that we need to treat our students as teachers—>not “do lessons” but provide them with “prof development” that constantly focuses on training them to teach themselves to be their own teachers. As librarians, we need to make sure that our program guides students to be content-producers, creators, and publishers. They need to learn how to find, sift through, then create their own information portals.
    .-= Karen Kliegman´s last blog ..Official Google Blog: Tips and tricks for deploying Google Apps =-.

  7. [...] I just had to go back and read some more of the amazing blogs out there written by students and teachers to realize that my blog is a place where I can explore my thoughts, grapple with questions, test [...]

  8. So important! Great read from @langwitches http://t.co/6874mZeMT1 #learning #curriculum #21stedchat

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