Student Voice & Choice Grows “Passionately on Track” Learners

Stephanie Pinto is mom to two girls in 3rd and 5th grade at Aveson. She has been a Personalized Mastery Learning instructional aide is the content editor and photographer for the Aveson website. She also teaches elementary school art at a private Catholic school, where she is able to compare and contrast the PML model she observes at Aveson to a more traditional setting. Stephanie contributes to RelevantED primarily from a parent perspective addressing key PML concepts from the parent’s point of view.

This article was originally posted on and was reposted with permission

My daughter is going to end global warming. She swears it. For now, I allow her comments to resonate — at least in the privacy of our home — and prompt her with questions about how she plans to start. This is the freedom, support, inspiration that her school has provided. Who am I to squelch it?

Instead of a teacher standing before the classroom, lecturing and feeding students with lessons he deems relevant, the teacher is on the side, interacting with my daughter’s ideas. He is allowing her voice and choice, supporting her dreams — and then, with the insight of knowing her and the professionalism of knowing general ages and stages, he is deconstructing big plans into more formative global questions that keep her passion alive as she starts to research her goal.

I have tried to imagine any of my childhood teachers doing this. I think it could have scared them. I think it could scare many current teachers. There is not time to support a student with this plan. There is no point to allowing this kind of altruistic hallucination. But is there?

The common core standards can be mastered in many ways. Proving they are understood, showing capability, illustrating that a student understands them can be done while presenting a plan to end global warming. Or by writing about a pet bunny. Or by starting a business that coaches kids on their golf stroke.

My point is this. That content is not the goal here. The skill sets and outcomes that are used to present the content are measurable, common core standards that enable a teacher to see that a student is on track. But she is passionately on track because she has determined her own relevance in the subject matter. The process was realized and supported along the way. What a different process that would have been if the teacher had patted her on the back and said “there, there, now, let’s think about something you can maybe do at a smaller level … how about a campus clean-up day?”

There are times that relevance can be established by the teacher. I am not advocating against that. But how often are those statements wrapped in comments like: “I know some of you don’t think this is important, but someday you will need to know it.” Or, “you might not understand this now, but it will make sense later. And then you’ll be glad I made you learn it.”

It’s the difference between handing a kid a bowl of Brussels sprouts or asking them to plan a menu that has the same nutritional value. True you can prepare the Brussels sprouts the night before and serve up a huge steaming bowl but how many kids are going to eat?

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