For effective learning, students should feel valued, appreciated

Phones Ajayo, a teacher and Director at Phonestar Academy at Bidii Center, Kitale, plays with pupils. June 18, 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

For effective teaching and learning, we ought to make students feel valued and heard.

It is a no-brainer that we all want to feel valued. Respected. Involved and not dictated to in matters that affect us. Tell you what, students are no less. If anything, because they are still at the stage of external validation, they need it more.

A sense of belonging is fundamental in our diverse classrooms where students come from all walks of life, different experiences, social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.

Students ought to feel that they are seen, valued, and heard. We tend to have this notion that learners have to be decided for; what they are taught, how they are taught, and why. The ongoing debate on CBC is a pointer to this.

Not to disregard the merits of this curriculum and its pillars. They are, in fact, quite impressive, and in a compelling way. Everyone is putting forth their best argument rather strongly, the best way they know-how.

However, no one seems to be listening to the learner, or no one seems to be interested in what the learners think through this hubbub.

As the rollout continues, the CBC ought to give students a safe and supportive space that enables learning.

The modern-day learner is quite different from the docile learner of yesteryears. They are way better informed, highly opinionated, and seem to know what they want at a pretty young age.

On the flip side, some are dealing with various constraints from home and are on the verge of breaking point. Some are from single-parent homes and others may not have a history of academic success.

There’s a historical record of specific groups of students who have experienced long-term exclusion—students coming from different ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds than the majority student population, and even students with disabilities.

The least they need is to feel that extra special sense of belonging. Learners ought to feel more valued, heard, and have a say in the learning process. They ought to feel the world and, by proxy, the school and classroom are safe to share their ideas or participate in the learning process.

In her 2000 extensive study on the students’ need for belonging in the school community, Dr Karen F Osterman, a professor of educational leadership in the School of Education at Hofstra University, echoes the voice of many researchers and educators who believe that one of the most fundamental reforms needed in the school setting is to turn the institutions into better communities of caring and support for young learners.

 CBC ought to give students a safe and supportive space that enables learning. [File, Standard]

In the psychological bit of it, she argues that the satisfaction of the three basic needs of a learner; competence, autonomy, and relatedness, supports the development of important psychological processes including intrinsic motivation, internalisation, and autonomy.

While students who feel secure, heard, and accepted are more likely to evidence autonomy, and self-regulation, students who feel left out often exhibit an unwillingness or inability to conform to norms and appear less able to act independently.

In analysing data from the CDP, Osterman observed a significant relationship between students’ sense of belonging and various positive indicators: social competence, democratic values, empathy, joy in helping others learn, intrinsic prosocial motivation, and perspective-taking.

She also reported a significant correlation with attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours including concern and respect for peers and teachers, conflict resolution, and acceptance of outgroups.

What, then, can we do differently?

Our schools need to prioritise high-quality teacher-student relationships. Creating strong bonds between teachers and learners to encourage openness, promote students’ academic and social development.

This can dramatically enhance students’ level of motivation and trust while promoting learning and achieving higher levels academically.

Teachers need to go beyond their scheduled office hours to make sure they get to know their students and to allow them space to discuss their needs and individual questions.

Students who happen to have strong, meaningful, and fulfilling relationships are more academically engaged, have stronger social skills, and experience more positive behaviour. Eventually, they become quite well-adjusted individuals.

To instill a sense of belonging to learners, teachers ought to be sensitive to students’ needs and emotions.

Not all students learn in the same way. 

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