When we think about our students, we often wonder if we are reaching every learner. Learning differences encompass a broad spectrum of ways in which students may reach their potential and build confidence in themselves. Critical consciousness plays a role in education whereby oppression is recognized and addressed in ways to foster student achievement and success. In their research, Heberle, Rapa and Farago state that “Critical consciousness (Freire, 1973, 2000) refers to an individual’s awareness of oppressive systemic forces as well as a sense of efficacy and engagement in action against oppression.”
Having recently been introduced to this concept, I am humbled by the fact that I had never been exposed to Freire in any of my teacher training programs. I took this as an opportunity to learn more through my own research, but one of the most poignant resources I came across was a TedX Talk by Nicole West Burns, Ph.D on Critical Consciousness in Education. How often as teachers do we plan an activity that may not be fitting for our students as individuals? The point in Dr. West Burns’ video regarding her daughter’s science experiment is an example of this. While not ill-meaning, her teacher failed to recognize differences that resulted in a child’s inability to participate fully in the activity. As educators, we need to be cognizant of the fact not only that some students learn differently, but that there are physical and cultural differences that should be considered in our planning. Further, we must create an environment where students have choices in their learning to foster a sense of empowerment to own their learning.
In this 2017 Phi Delta Kappan article, the authors delve into critical consciousness as the key to student achievement. It describes the experience of a high school student who had the opportunity to participate in an authentic learning experience through a podcasting project connected to the city in which he lived. This experience brought the student to the realization of his own critical consciousness and a heightened commitment to his education.
These two examples of education practice got me thinking about how we can make a difference in our own classrooms. Authentic learning experiences based upon real-world and personal connections not only hold student interest. They also provide a student with the opportunity to know themselves and the world around them like never before and have a voice. For the student that could not fully participate in her science class, perhaps offering choices instead of a one size fits all activity would have served her better. I have been using and providing training on Choice Boards for a few years now and find them to be a great way to integrate technology in the classroom.
Covered in my Make the Shift! Transformative Digital Learning Experiences course, one of my favorite choice boards is to bring learning beyond the classroom. Here is the template, which you are free to copy and use for your own. You may also adapt it to provide students with choices for an activity based on their strengths and interests to personalize learning. This is especially useful these days through digital activities in the remote classroom. Opportunities for authentic learning may be combined on one choice board for project-based learning. Consider updating your version with resources for research, along with digital tools for students to communicate their learning such as presentations, videos and podcasts to share with others. Take it a step further and have students collaborate to create their own choice board that promotes critical consciousness and assign it to one another. What better way could there be to promote mutual respect and understanding to value diversity?