Imagine a school where students are given a blank timetable at the start of term and are asked to fill it up with the lessons they desire to attend.
Picture a school where students schedule their own activities, have the option to engage with events of their choice and make informed choices that will benefit their academic progression.
Envision a school that has a basic structure in place, but doesn’t record a student’s movements day-by-day, minute-by-minute.
If you’ve never heard of such a school, you might be surprised to know that they do exist.
One such academic institution is A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School in Suffolk, England.
Since 1921, this school has stuck by its title of the ‘oldest children’s democracy in the world’. With an alternative educational model that has certainly raised some eyebrows, yet sets minds free, Summerhill is just one of many schools striving against the overuse of structured academic activities.
The overuse of structured classroom activities
From the perspective of alternative schools, the overuse of structured classroom activities in primary and secondary schools may impact students’ creative confidence and may strain their overall academic progression.
Tying activities to a strict time frame and lesson outline can cause young students to shy away from ‘colouring outside the lines’ and expressing their artistic or academic abilities.
For instance, if a teacher conducts an art lesson and asks every student to draw the same object in the same style, then where are the opportunities for innovation or development?
If students must follow the same activity structure over and over again, wouldn’t students feel the need to switch up the pattern and pursue different study sessions and learning modes?
Strategies to increase authentic student voices in schools
As explained in a recent report labelled Elevating Student Voice in Education, published by researchers and policy analysts at the Center for American Progress, “Students have the greatest stake in their education but little to no say in how it is delivered.”
Exploring the student voice in US schools, the report outlines beneficial ways to increase the control learners have over their lesson structures.
Rather than being restricted to rigid structures and activities, there are ways to strike a healthy balance between academic freedom and frameworks within the classroom.
One key technique the report refers to is through ‘student-run councils’ or ‘student governments’.
Empowering students to make decisions and engage in issues that are important to the student body and school culture, these councils help students foster leadership development and gain experience with democracy, administration and communicating with administrators.
“Student councils typically have no authority over budgeting, school hiring, pay and other personnel matters, discipline, grades, or the length of the school day. They do, however, tend to have shared responsibility for homecoming, dances, and civic and volunteer activities. Often, they have complete authority over student council initiatives, school spirit weeks, fundraising for council projects, staff appreciation and more,” adds the report.
Additionally, the introduction of “democratic classroom practices” proved to be a strong strategy in the report.
“By allowing students to help shape the structure and climate of their learning environment, teachers make joint decisions with groups of students, helping students develop skills to collaborate with their peers.”
This would empower students by letting them weigh in on how the classroom works and increasing learning relevance. Strategies like these could be the answer to a school that strives for the perfect blend of academic frameworks and freedom.
First full Student Council meeting of the year! pic.twitter.com/TLGmsIUtfN
— SPB School (@SPBGreenKnights) September 24, 2019
But with all the pros and cons of structured classroom activities, a question mark remains.
Do you think the overuse of structured activities in schools disrupts students’ academic progression, or do you think it directs them to academic success?
It’s important for us all to remember that there’s no ‘one size fits all approach to education’, and so what works for one learner may not work for another.