Goal: Give Students Reign

Part of the Goals 2010 Challenge Series, Goal 13

When I get into discussions about integrating technology effectively in the classroom, I usually pause. I fear many schools have a long journey ahead of them, because they have yet to adopt effective teaching practices, such as facilitation and cooperative learning. These are just a few. When I walk into most universities, lecturing is what I see. When I walk into public schools, lecturing is what I see. I also see many unmotivated students and read about the thousands of students who drop out every year and do not receive a diploma or about the struggle most universities have with freshman retention. I often think about students without a high school or college diploma and the struggles they bare. The reality is that many will raise children in poverty who will repeat the cycle. However, educators can do something about this. They can motivate their students to learn by giving them ownership of their learning.

  • What if we took all the bookmarked web 2.0 tools we’ve been meaning to learn and let each student pick one to teach the class?
  • What if we persuaded our principals to have one day  dedicated to throwing out the lectures and book work?
  • What if we walked into our classes on the first day, assigned some learning objectives to each student, and asked them to design that part of the curriculum with engaging lessons?
  • What if we told every student, please use your cell phones during this test, because your classmates are your lifelines?
  • What if we asked the students what they wanted to learn about the subject and how they wanted to learn the material?
  • What if we gave students choices on how they would be tested?

I do not remember graduating from college and thinking I had all the answers now let me share them with my students. I think the best educators motivate students to experiment, research, and reflect. I think these educators are passionate about learning and continue to learn themselves. That is why my long-term goal is to provide more opportunities for my students to teach me, especially the ones that are labeled “challenging” by others. I want my students to have more control of the curriculum than I do. I believe if the student has more ownership of their learning they are motivated to be lifelong learners. I want my students to use what they learn and one way is by having them teach others what they learned. I do facilitate in the classroom like probably many of you do, but I want to take this further. What do you think?


Allow your students to have complete control over one class period. Have them choose the material and the way they want to present the material. Just trust them and see what they create.

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Care to share your experiences with allowing your students to make decisions about their learning?

Photo above by Wfryer on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/ShellyTerrell, and on her blog, TeacherRebootCamp.com, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at https://www.slideshare.net/ShellTerrell/presentations


  1. So agree! Sadly, it’s so hard to get teachers to change. It’s also very hard to give up control of the classroom and relinquish it to the students. I think that may be the hardest part for a teacher to do.

    On the other hand, I really like your ideas. You’ve got some great ones for learners today. I also think that giving your students more control of the curriculum might help with the issue of burned out teachers like you mentioned in the previous goal. If teachers allowed their students to decide what they would learn, then the curriculum would always be fresh and new. How could get burned out like that?

    • Marti,

      That’s a great point about teacher burn-out! If students are helping to create the curriculum, then the teacher can concentrate on the facilitating of learning which is the best part of teaching!

  2. I agree Shelly, and what I like about this post is that the goal is realistic in that you are suggesting something for one class, or one element of the curriculum. Sometimes these learner-centred suggestions are made rather wholesale which alienates teachers who feel they can’t do this with a group of 35 teenagers. But little steps can be made.
    The only one I still haven’t got my head around is the using cell phones during tests. Not because I don’t want students to help each other, but because in my context cell phones cost money for each call. I’d be reluctant to do that kind of activity as it may favour those with more credit on their phones!

    • Lindsay,

      I forget that I’m still speaking sometimes from my experiences teaching with US students. Many of the plans there include text messaging for free but you’re right that this wouldn’t necessarily work in Germany for me! I don’t know but I think I’m going to have to try this experiment with the teens here to see what problems I encounter!

  3. What brilliant ideas! I totally agree with you! I also believe that students should be helped to become responsible for their learning process to encourage them become life-long learners.
    Last year, as I wanted to help my students become more fluent speakers of English, I assigned the first part of the class to free development of a topic. Each class one of the students had to present any topic they would choose in the way they wanted to present it. The rest of the class had to listen and provide peer correction at the end of the presentation. It was an interesting task and they enjoyed it!

  4. I think it would help to take a hard look at “motivate the students” It implies that we have the power to “motivate” Yes, but it’s so time and energy consuming and unreliable.

    Consider instead that kids and everyone else love to learn in pursuit of doing something they want to do. To be clear I’m not saying they can do anything they want to do. It is school, there are many things they must learn.

    In this context, our job is to keep them safe, be the umpire that enforces the rules and guide them on their path of engagement.

    The post at @kevcreutz http://ilnk.me/1511 is another data point for the fact that kids love to play games. Games mean clear rules, clear rewards, and a defined path to win.

    In this sense, I think the grading system is a critical component. The problem is that letter grades for “intelligence” or “success” are much too ambiguous. Because they are people tend to invent ways to win that have little to do with learning.

    Rather than clog this thread, I think it’s worth looking at the work being done by @mctownsley on different ways to grade. Very important in my opinion.

  5. I am thinking about how this translates to the elementary classroom. I think it is interesting that kids enter school and we ask them to stop playing. They have to sit in a seat all day, not talking to their neighbors, and filling in worksheets. What if we entered into play with kids? What if we gave them opportunities to learn through play? Hmm…

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