Empowering disengaged students to succeed in school

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Introduction

Over the past years, research has been carried out on how students can be motivated on diverse forms of goal orientations. Similarly, the research has focused on varied processes of motivation related to the goal orientations as well as the conditions that give rise to such motivations. Researchers have classified the goal orientations into two categories namely: ego oriented and task oriented. Moreover, they have endeavored to address the motivational orientations among students in relation to mastery and ability. The convergence among the different orientations has led to their integration into two distinct classes: performance and mastery objectives. In a typical classroom in college, the professor lectures for hours as students struggle to put down the points given by the lecturer. However, such learning has traditionally led to the perpetuation of surface learning; preventing students to obtain in-depth learning that can last. Moreover, this form of learning seems to be passed from one generation to another as the lecturers may be doing just as they were taught. However, there is need to empower students into being part of the learning and acquire lasting knowledge. It is imperative that all students are taken through an educational experience that transforms their perspective about learning. Although the traditional measures of success in academics is the ability to read fluently and proficiency in mathematics, it has been a daunting experience for many students. It is in this regard that this essay seeks to review the scholarly take about student academic empowerment in the face of challenges; particularly reviewing the gaps requiring further research.

The reality of classroom environment for students

It has never been a simple task for teachers making students comprehends intensively the concepts learnt in class. In fact, some disciplines are viewed extremely difficult by the students such that it has always been a daunting task for them to understand concepts related to them. For instance, students with disabilities as well as the disengaged ones have always been on the losing end whenever some disciplines regarded difficult are involved. Different researchers have tried to address the issue of disengagement in students and academic performance. For instance, according to National Center for Educational statistics, 33% of fourth graders have problems of proficiency in reading. In a research conducted by the Haan Foundation for children in 2007, the society stands to lose highly for not taking measures to remedy the downward trajectory in disengaged students. From the same research, it has been established that over 80% of the students who experience challenges in learning suffer disabilities in reading. At the same time, 60% of the adolescents undergoing substance abuse treatment also suffer reading disabilities.

Professors are said to have had ample time to test their teaching methods. These methods are improved with every passing moment to facilitate the understanding of the foundational concepts in the disciplines they teach. As more and more concepts are taught and additional experience is acquired, the professors are able to obtain a crystal clear comprehension of ferreted concepts more subtly (Harp & Brewer, 2001). The main question is on the ways of enabling students to obtain more than the surface knowledge often got in classroom lectures. Working with disengaged students has always proved to be a very difficult task for teachers. They are always confused about the best measures to undertake in providing successful collaborative programs. These kinds of students do not only show weaknesses in certain subjects but also very passive interests in class work; with high lateness and absenteeism. Professors also face challenges as they try to develop a way of incorporating students in the class and fully engaging them. This has raised the question of student generated class rules to guide the students in the classroom environment. Other daunting tasks faced by professors are on the issue of note taking and tests.

In a research carried out using two classes, the experimental class was allowed to generate class rules (Jeannie & Mitchell, 2005). After the instructor presented the rules generated by the experimental class to a second class which was being used as a comparison, there were complains that the rules were generated by the instructor. The results obtained from the two groups revealed that the comparison group which was n=88, had a high number of students with negative behavior in accordance to the rules as opposed to the experimental class which had a positive rating for the instructor. Empowerment of students to take charge of the learning process by coming up with classroom rules also affects their absorption of the contents of the learning materials. Similarly, they are able to not only understand the contexts of their school life but also make sense of the learning process. A carefully selected students' generated learning environment can provide a successful empowerment towards learning.

New learning can be highly supported by the incorporation of the students. There are various ways through which student incorporation in the process of learning can be enhanced. For instance, the application of recent advancements in technology can provide a basis for the growth of the learning process. With the application of the available technology, it is possible for students to not only develop guidelines about their classroom behavior but also the learning materials they need to use. For instance, the availability of the internet, programs in computers, smart phones, and video cameras provide a rich source of materials from where learning can be based. Normally, a large number of students have difficulties with the traditional classroom environments. According to Ames (2001), there are three levels of participants in a classroom environment: beginners, intermediate level and advanced. The levels are based on the concepts of the discipline being studied. An instructor needs to cater for all the three types of learners during the class sessions. However, there are difficulties involved in meeting the needs of the three categories of students.

Harp and Brewer (2001) outlined the basic elements that are vital for the comprehension of learning materials by students. The first element is the richness and level of engagement of the material being taught. On their view, they argued that if learners would gain motivation in the subject matter of the discipline, motivation is of paramount importance. The two researchers found a strong relationship between learning motivation and instruction centered on the students. Similarly, they evaluated the importance of classroom activities which are authentic in the motivation of a reading culture. Content reading is a suitable tool that needs to be integrated in classroom activities as it facilitates the understanding of the students on the importance integrating the material learned in their learning process.

Student empowerment strategies in a discipline where students are disengaged can vary depending on the prevailing contexts of the class and the instructor involved. Elder and Paul (2002) found out that the organizational schemata of information on a course can bring about a different approach on class work by students. For instance, they suggested the application of essential questions in framing the course. Through this, they found out that it is possible for the students to acquire a meaningful understanding of the unconnected facts in class work. The major advantage with the use of essential questions lies in the fact that the answers are varied and therefore provoke the students to think widely and extensively concerning their probable answers. The use of essential questions is not meant for a specific discipline. According to Elder and Paul, virtually all disciplines can utilize these questions in creating an understanding of concepts by students as opposed to superficial learning. One way of creating essential questions in learning is by focusing them on the students. This does not change the factual contents of the concept; it only enhances deeper understanding by the students (Elder & Paul 2002).

Analysis of learning strategies and student empowerment

Motivation patterns for students are directly linked to learning empowerment. The actual settings of a classroom may be characterized with salient motivation patterns aimed at enhancing the learning process. Various studies reveal that (Brattesani et al, 2004; Marshall and Winstein, 2001 and Nicholas, 2000) different perceptions are constructed through variations in students' classroom perception and goals. These different researchers found a linkage between the choices of tasks, beliefs as well as attitudes towards success and failure in respective disciplines. Similarly, these scholars sought out to determine the relationship between students' perceptions and the absorption of learning strategies. Classroom situations are composed of students with differing cues to informational digest and comprehension. Therefore, there is a mix up of information leading to inconsistencies of goals among students. At the same time, it has been established that students in the same classroom often differ in the extent of their focus various cues as well as their interpretation.

Individual differences among students make it complex for instructors to come up with a suitable learning strategy. Nevertheless, collaborative measures between the teacher and students have been found to yield desirable results. In determining the most appropriate learning strategies, researchers have endeavored to focus on the level of understanding exhibited by the students on the strategies. Awareness of the strategies is said to be high. However, it is not effective without the incorporation in the rightful learning contexts. Findings obtained from an experimental study (Ames, 2001) show that whenever students encounter rewarding conditions, they use self-instructions and strategies that facilitate self monitoring. Similarly, recent research has proved that when students get oriented to learning, they are most likely to seriously think on the concepts being learnt (Covengton, 2004). In other studies, it has been found out that students are likely to be motivated into trying out difficult disciplines consisting of challenging tasks. They have also been said to be positive about the challenging tacks as well as showing encouraging attributes towards such disciplines. However, the desirable attitude has been said to have come from adoption of the mastery orientation.

A risk of failure is always associated with challenging tasks and in particular in difficult disciplines like mathematics and sciences. A major negative attribute of failure is the impact it has towards students' perception of self-worth (Covengton, 2004). However, it has been found out through research that challenging tasks are viewed as being less threatening with some students getting attracted to them due to the opportunity they offer for intensive learning and application of more intense efforts. Moreover, research has shown that there is a positive attitude exhibited by students towards various disciplines if the environment within the classroom is enjoyable and satisfying (Fry & Coe 2000). When students are committed to learning, there is a possibility that they can understand complex concepts contained in various scientific disciplines. Strategies on classroom discussion are very essential for the fruition of collaborative empowerment of disengaged students. There are various ways through which classroom discussions can be enhanced in order to suit the target students. For instance, when such discussions are framed based on the planned questions, it makes it more beneficial to the students involved.

Students' understanding of concepts in different disciplines increases depending on the level of engagement. Therefore, the application of planned questions facilitates for the improvement in students' comprehension from the basic level to higher order thinking. Some course contents especially in science disciplines require a deeper level of comprehension by the students. Therefore, it is imperative for the process to be improved through the application of various levels of thinking (Bloom 2009). There are about six levels of thinking through which full comprehension is attained: knowing, comprehending, application, analyzing, synthesizing and finally evaluating. If classroom discussions are planned in that the understanding of the students moves through the six stages, it becomes interesting and provocative for the students to be engaged in the discussion. At this point, prompts are automatically developed within the students on the course that the discussion needs to take. Most importantly, such a classroom discussion incorporates the teacher and students fully. A two year study shows that to enhance student learning and assessment, application of collaborative testing may be appropriate. Collaborative testing was used after students had their initial attempt on the exam and later did it collaboratively or even by use of books and notes. The good thing with the use of collaborative testing is the fact that retention levels were high as well as better scores obtained.

Conclusion

There has been widespread research on the subject of education and particularly student empowerment in classroom environment. Researchers have sought to study the relationships between dismal performance by students in diverse disciplines and the teaching methods adopted by instructors. In a traditional classroom setting, the instructor is viewed as the only source of information; students are expected to listen and take notes. Various research work agree that there is need for the adoption of better methods through which students can be empowered to engage in challenging disciplines and tasks. However, there seems to be no consensus on the rightful methods of empowering disengaged students. Either, the existing research fails to address the extent of success attained through application of diverse collaborative methods. New research needs to fill the gaps left by earlier research particularly on science disciplines. It also needs to identify the major components of a successful science class like note taking, examinations as well as research.

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