Student Driven Learning: My Journey

Many people have asked me recently about my push to make my classroom more student driven. For some, it is a large step and can be potentially scary to think about relinquishing control of your classroom to students. In an effort to help and also reflect on my journey, I provide the following phases of creating a student driven classroom. This is by no means ground breaking or the definitive answer, but simply one teacher’s journey.

Phase One:
As with any journey worth taking, the first step is often the most difficult to take. For me it was realizing that I was no longer the keeper of the knowledge and that I didn’t need to be “teaching” as much as I was. I needed to believe that my students could take more ownership and that I could guide more and instruct less. In order for a teacher to push more student driven learning, they first must be able to resign from teaching and trust they don’t need to be in front of the class at all times.

Phase Two:
Once I made the decision to resign and begin putting more the learning in my student’s hands I started with giving them more choices. This is a really simple and easy step to start, especially for younger kids. For me, I started with giving choices on simple things like projects and daily in class activities. If my goal was to see if students comprehended a concept, why does format matter? Let the students choose what works best for them.

Phase Three:
For me, the next step was no longer dictating the learning steps a student took in order to master a learning standard. Yes, I realize that the very presence of learning standards is counterintuitive to student driven learning, but it is also a reality of my job. I did this in a number of ways. First, I modeled with students how to turn a standard into a learning question. The students then decided how best to answer that question…what resources to use, what method of information gathering, and what format to share or present their learning. I created a series of organizers to help students go through this process and they became quite good at doing it.  

Phase Four:
The next phase is to turn all of the work completely over to the students. I did this last spring when I gave my Language Arts students a list of the learning standards for the entire trimester. They choose what learning activities to do, what order to do them in, and how to show evidence of their learning. I had a calendar and students filled in meeting times with me for mini lessons, small group discussions, and any other assistance they needed. They owned every aspect of their learning with the exception of the standards themselves. I shared many of these posts and experiences during my Reform Symposium presentation

Phase Five:
This is the best and most pure form of student driven learning and I experienced this on one occasion last year. For me, stage five is when students not only choose their activities and evidence, but also the content of their learning. They are not driven towards a predetermined standard but rather choose what to learn based on their passions and learning needs. My example of this was last year during our Innovation Day where students worked towards their own learning goals in whatever method best suited them.

As I move into this new school year, I am planning on continuing to evolve my process and always look for more opportunities to help students take more ownership of their learning. One example that I am looking to pursue is to have more days in phase five where students can create more long term and sustainable learning projects based on individual interest and passion. I am bound by certain learning standards within my class, but I will continue to nurture student driven learning as I firmly believe that is a huge step to creating lifelong learners. 

Celebrate the Small Things

Simple post with a simple idea…celebrate the small things in life and in school. Below is a video of my youngest son demonstrating how he can now zip his coat on his own. They make a big deal about this at his preschool as kids join the official “Zipper Club” after being able to zip their own coats. While this may seem like an insignificant pursuit to most of us, you can certainly see the pride on my son’s face when he gets it done.

How often are we celebrating the small things in our classrooms? Are we taking time to give a student a pat on the pack and tell them we are proud of their work or some seemingly insignificant action? I am not asking for handing out awards but simply celebrating and acknowledging good things kids are doing.