Intervene More, Intervene Less—or Empower Students to Self-Organize?

Submitted by Six Red Marbles on Sun, 11/13/2011

We’ve all seen it—the kid that struggles in school. It feels right to step forward, intervene, do something. But how much intervention is too much? And what if the way we’re intervening won’t help?

Maybe kids have the answer…and what we need to do is step back instead of forward, and take a good look at how students learn.

Let's look at “self organization”—an open system that doesn’t require intervention.  In self-organized learning, we give kids a goal and let them work together to find the solution (ahem, 21st century skills, anyone?). When kids pursue a goal, they do more than come up with a solution. They may also learn or create something else along the way, something they didn’t know before.

Historically, we can look to primitive cultures for models. “Eating food” is a goal; “fishing rod” is not. “Fishing rod” is a solution, a tool, an end in itself…and for some kids, a creative roadblock. Maybe we don’t teach the answer. By focusing on the big-picture need, we free up kids’ imaginations—and their learning power.

Sugata Mitra is one of my favorite educational researchers, and he applies “self organization” in powerful ways. Check out his TED talk on Child Driven Education.  Bring your tissues! And keep this approach in your own toolbox.

Sarah White is Six Red Marbles’ founder and resident “Rabble Rouser,” helping her passionate team create products that inspire learners everywhere.

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