Thursday, March 10, 2011

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…
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