My time as an editor has taught me the importance of individual words as well as how those words are fit together. However, the lesson I want to discuss here was first drawn to my attention by my professor in graduate school, Dr. Michael Clough, at Iowa State University. I say “my” professor, not “a” professor for very specific reason – remember, words are important. Which brings me to the dialogue educators have around student engagement. The words “make” “allow” and “encourage” are three common words representing very different ideas.
“Make” is not a word most reflective educators use. After any time at all in a classroom, we quickly realize that a “make” mentality gets us no where. We cannot make students do anything – they ALWAYS have a choice. I try to make this explicit to my students, even saying, “I can’t make you learn, you have to choose to learn”.
“Allow” implies that teachers can somehow prevent students from learning. I will admit that there are practices in education that “discourage” learning, but we do not prevent students from learning. Students learn at tremendous rates with our without teachers.
“Encourage” more authentically reflects what teacher can accomplish with students. Rather than saying we “allow” students to make connections to prior knowledge, we can “encourage” students to make connections by asking carefully worded questions such as, “How does X compare to our discussions of Y?”
Encouragement takes an active leader in learning. Allow equates to passive behavior. If we have the attitude that we simply “allow” students to learn, we miss the important role of the teacher in learning. A “make” mentality is toxic and results in adversarial relationships between teachers and students that are not productive.