Student Driven Learning

Last week was the end of our second trimester of 6th grade. We ended that trimester with our innovation day which was a pinnacle moment for me and my views on education. It epitomized student driven learning in a pure and unfiltered form. Kids were motivated and engaged in their learning. Immediately afterwards, I began thinking of how to sustain this feeling…forever!


Well, I had an idea.

I was going to give complete control of the learning in my Language Arts to the students. Starting three days ago, that is exactly what I did. First, we went over our district mandated standards that we had to “hit” between now and the end of the year. Then, I shared with my students various projects and activities I had used in years past that were related to the specific standards. Then it was all on them.

Students worked in collaborative groups and some partnerships to create a syllabus for their learning. With my assistance, students began construction activities and projects to meet their learning standards. My requirement of them is that they needed to demonstrate mastery of the learning standards. How they went about it, and what format they used for evidence was entirely up to them. If they wanted to work alone, great! If they wanted to work in groups, awesome!

Here are some examples of what the students were doing today:

Four boys decided to form a book club to work on their literature standards. They invited me to a meeting next week to discuss their understanding of “theme” in their novel. Rather than do a formal written paper, they wanted to have a discussion with me. They then spent the rest of the time discussing the first chapter. Their conversation was unscripted, unprompted by me, and yet was rich in content and literary substance.

I had two girls researching figurative language in their literature books. They then went and found four poems, and two short stories that had examples of the various forms of figurative language. To finish things off, they wrote their own personal examples of these literary devices to demonstrate their understanding. I will be pushing them to “teach” their classmates in small groups next week.

A handful of students were recording themselves with webcams reading picture books. They are working on the reading rate and fluency and will be sending them home to their parents as part of read aloud day/week activities.

One student was researching Justin Bieber as part of her expository writing standards. She will be writing an expository essay while addressing those standards and then preparing an informational presentation. Another student was looking at engendered species and working with the same learning standards.

In another corner of the room, I had two girls who checked out poetry books from the LRC and were reading various forms of poetry. They then began working on mimicking and writing their own poems using a variety of styles and formats. These poems will address another writing standard.

If you were to look in the room, it was a bit chaotic as I was rolling around (I roll on my desk chair in between students/groups) the room checking in on student’s work. All of the students were doing different things, but all were working towards a set of learning standards. It was pandemonium, but learning was happening and it was great.

As we move forward, I have placed a large calendar on my back wall. Students will be signing up for small group mini lessons, and meetings with me. If there is a standard they don’t understand or need some guidance with, they sign up and we meet. This will allow me to work with small groups and tailor class time to what they need. In addition, students are empowered to do the work because they are choosing what to work on, when to work on it, and how to demonstrate their learning. No cookie cutter instruction for the rest of the year…

23 comments:

Tony said...

how do you do it?

I an inspired by what I read, and daunted by what I see (in my own room). I teach juniors and seniors, and I want so badly to "give up" control, but just don't know how to construct it in such a way that true chaos (not the productive pandemonium you describe) won't ensue. Do you have plans on how to maintain this? Pray tell...

Dvora said...

Wow! Sounds like things are going great. What a cool idea. I will add it to my thinking/planning for next year. Maybe try something similar during the 5th grading period here for science class. Keep us posted on the progress.

Teacher Trainee said...

I am bookmarking all these ideas for when I eventually get my class. The more I read your blog, the more I'm excited about going into upper elementary (primary). My first teaching experience is Year7/8 starts a week from monday. Zoiks

mrkaiser said...

This is such an awesome way to teach, proof that students want to learn when given the opportunity to do so. I think trust is a big issue here. When students are trusted, they usually rise and meet the demands of a task. There is just too much hand holding and lecture in the normal classroom. Oh yeah, and text books. Thanks for the great post. I plan on trying this with a class soon.
Web20edu.com

starwatcher236 said...

So exciting!
If I were back in my classroom with my eighth graders, I would turn over the state standards to them right away.
I'm thinking about it for my pre-service teachers.
My freshmen already do a lot of this for their college writing course.

Mindy Bachrach-Ingersoll said...

This is something I'm considering doing in my high school business classrooms as well. Please continue to tell the story. Share what works and what doesn't and I'll do the same at www.motivatetoinspire.com

Anthony said...

What an awesome idea! It takes a special teacher like you to allow students to work on their own. I'm excited to read more as they continue this learning process.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Thank you for all the comments. At the end of week one everything is going well. I will be posting periodic updates as to how it is going and how you too can "do it" in your classroom.

kilgosclass said...

I think you are very courageous and innovative and love this idea! I wonder if a version of it could work with my 4th graders? You've given us all a lot to think about.

Justin Stortz said...

TRUST! Huge amounts of trust. I love it. Kids will rise to the responsibility that we give them.

The calendar idea is gold. I feel like I'm on the same page as you, but a few paragraphs behind. I so much appreciate the things you are sharing on your blog. It is inspiring many!

- @newfirewithin

Katherine said...

I absolutely love this approach. Having shared this with our staff, a question that came out was how do we do this, and still cover the curriculum. Any thoughts on that?

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

In spite of what you might think, I still get through the entire curriculum and hit all of the learning standards. I go about this is a very simple manner. I cut out the fluff. In addition, when you let students pace themselves more, they are able to cover more ground. Your higher end students can move at a faster pace independently. Plus, you have more time to work with the slower students to push their pace as well. This leads to a more efficient classroom where more learning is being done in a shorter amount of time.

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Nancy C said...

This is truly inspiring. I think we need to allow students to be more responsible for their learning. I bet they are excited to come to class each day and look forward to sharing their knowledge.

Do you think this would work on a smaller scale at the 4th grade level?

I look forward to reading your updates!

Thanks for sharing!

Alex Bellars said...

Truly inspirational, Josh. If we can weather the current storm in the UK and wait until our current Secretary of State for Education has "moved on" to spread his inane policies in some other department, such ideas will flourish this side of the Pond, I am sure!

All power to you... ;)

Michelle Luhtala said...

Josh, Isn't it grand? I started this last fall with my alternative ed class, and it's been amazing. It has been incredibly messy. We've had tremendous technological setbacks, and had to scrap and "rethink" our plans numerous times.

Last week, I had them write their own grades and justify their rationale with evidence-based writing. Here are some of the comments: "[I am]always up to par and even able to help others..."
"...really letting my creativity come out when trying to think of how to stress my opinion and idea[s]..."
"...fuels my curiosity..."
"...Even though a lot of the work was very frustrating and took a lot of patience...I have tried my best to stay with the task assigned instead of moving on to another time taking [form of] procrastination..."

My students are in the program because, for one reason or another, they were socially and academically "failing to thrive." These testimonials demonstrate a complete transformation. They are indeed learning and thriving. They just needed to do it in a way that made sense to them.

Congratulations! You are doing your students a huge favor. Stick with it if/when it gets ugly. Your kids will learn even more from those experiences. Look forward to your updates!

Lin said...

Josh, great example of stretching student learning. May I use this, crediting you of course, in an upcoming publication?

Lin said...

Love this great example of student driven learning. May I use it in an upcoming publication? I would credit you and your Blog of course? Let me know. Thanks!

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Lin,

Sounds good to me. Just let me know what you need and feel free to email me at stumpteacher@gmail.com

Brian Wyzlic said...

This sounds. . .well, awesome. I've been having conversations with my colleagues lately about possibly writing up a proposal to our principal for a grade-less classroom, and this seems to be the perfect system to put in place in such an environment. As you say in a later post, "it's about the learning, not about the grades" (or as your student said, anyway, which is even better).

Do you plan on putting together a final report on all of this? I'm curious and interested about this, and wanting to perhaps implement something like it myself. I have so many questions, though, and I imagine many of them are being answered in your classroom already. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel (or the fuel-efficient sports car this may turn out to be), I'm hoping you'll share as much as you can with us.

Anonymous said...

I have just been introduced to your site, and it is great! One comment about "Student Driven Learning": I am a Montessori teacher for 4th - 6th grade students. Student Driven Learning is the basis of Montessori education. It is amazing to see students so engaged with their own education. We have a lot of fun in our classroom. The teacher is merely an observer and guide. The students have control over their learning and come up with their own projects, wether it be in groups or individual. I encourage you to learn more about Montessori education for older students!

Dr. Paul McKenna said...

I have developed a planning model that helps students take responsibility for their learning. I invite any teachers who are interested in doing more in this area to join my curriculum consortium. The model ensures that students cover the program of studies and yet explore the full depth and breadth of the content. If you would like to learn more contact me at director@curriculumcentre.com