Monday, March 17, 2014

William Glasser's Control Theory and the Interactive Classroom

I'm currently reading a collection of articles, Managing the Interactive Classroom by Kay Burke, of which the first is "The Key to Improving Schools: An Interview with William Glasser" by Pauline B. Gough.

In this interview with Gough, Glasser explains that the core of disciplinary problems in schools is due to students disbelief in the usefulness of school. Students do not see school as a means to satisfying their needs. This disbelief in schools leads to students being unwilling to work, or misbehavior as students try other means to satisfy needs.

What are those needs? According to Glasser, they're more than the need to survive (most students have their basic needs for survival already met, think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). Instead, students have a need for love, power, freedom, and fun.

Glasser's Control Theory holds that people are "internally motivated and driven . . . to try to survive and try to find some love, some power, some fun, and some freedom" (7-8).

Glasser believed that those needs are more naturally met in group environments and in collaborative activities. By encouraging students to work in "learning teams," they feel like important members of a group and are thus more willing to work hard towards a common goal for the success of the group.

What does this mean for teachers?

Our roles change to that of a facilitator. It becomes our job to set up a workspace that makes students want to learn, that cultivates collaboration, and holds students accountable.

Teachers can't make students learn, but they can certainly set things up so that students want to learn.  - Glasser, p. 16
However, simply putting students into groups isn't enough, Glasser warns (18). "What is needed instead is a team assignment, one that can't be completed unless the team works together[,] . . . causes students to want to work together, because they perceive that together they can do a great job, but independently they can do very little" (18).

What are my thoughts on Glasser and the Control Theory?

I believe that there is definite merit in his ideas that students must feel important in order to have vested interest in something. The most eye-opening lesson from this article is that group work alone isn't enough. Teachers need to create group tasks with the goal of eliciting true collaboration between students, in which each member of the group is vital for successful completion of the task. Otherwise, you'll see the usual pitfalls of group work.

Off to think up some true team assignments for an English classroom. Ta-ta!

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