Taking risks

Students, when asked, are usually quite honest. What engages them in learning the most is taking risks and having fun. This was mentioned recently by a headteacher of a school in England, who argued that schools are too risk averse today, and we need to inject some excitement back into lessons. Those who can remember their school days will often remember the fun they used to have with their friends. Ask them when the fun times happened, and most of them will recollect them occurring outside of formal lesson time. Rigid standards and curricula, and a growing culture of strict health and safety in schools has militated against a lot of risk taking. 'You can't do that' has become the commonly heard phrase when someone tries to innovate.

So how can we build fun and risk taking back into the school day?

Firstly, we need to look at learning in a new light. Students make their own meaning. They are not taught. They learn - and only if they are motivated and inspired to do so. Giving students some latitude to make their own meaning by solving problems and meeting challenges is more effective than giving them the answers. Too often in the past teachers have presented answers, when they should be asking questions. Better still, get the students to ask their own questions. Kate Friedwald, a teacher in Christchurch, New Zealand believes in this, suggesting an approach that answers questions with more questions, finding out for themselves, and exploring. This is the start of enquiry based learning, and for some will develop into a lifelong interest in personal research.

Secondly, make lessons fun. Teachers can only provide so many resources, but the best fun and engagement comes when students create their own resources. This is learning by stealth. As they conceive and construct their resources and then present them, students are actually going through a process where they solve problems, investigate and learn more deeply around the topic. Varying the pace and offer of a lesson also works, as Sonia Guilana, a teacher in Spain notes. She introduces surprise elements, polling and games.

Thirdly, risk taking in a controlled environment such as school need never be hazardous. Experimenting under supervision with chemicals, light sources, language, videos, music, computers, historical events, writing styles, mathematical formulae, in fact just about anything that is in the curriculum, will offer new perspectives for students. The most important point to consider here is to ensure that the lessons are not only physically safe, but also psychologically safe. That means that students are allowed to make mistakes, and are not penalised for doing so. Some of the best learning comes from reflection on failure rather than on success. Kate Galloway, a lecturer at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, argues that there is no real learning without some form of risk.

Finally, a word of advice from former deputy head teacher and now independent education consultant Dave Mitchell, who suggests that all teachers should imagine themselves being a student in the class. Wise words.

'The secret of change is to focus your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.' - Socrates

Image by Zenos Frudakis

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Taking risks by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


David Starkey said…
This is a fantastic image illustrating the content. And the content is the essence of the future of learning, in my view.

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