In a recent Next Generational Learning Center article written about student-directed learning, author Sarah Luchs concluded,“Children are natural learners. Naturally curious. Fully engaged with all their senses...to explore, question, test, discover. They follow their interests and are intrinsically motivated. At some level, they’re in control of and motivated by their own learning most of the time.” We observe these endearing qualities in our Middle School students at Berwick every day!
In my seventh-grade Algebra classroom, I’ve been designing new student-directed experiences that put my students front and center in their learning. For example, during our recent study of ratios, proportions, and percentages, I researched broad essential questions that would guide them in their journey: Why does proportional reasoning increase students’ understanding of the global world? How do we use ratios, proportions, percentages, differences, and scales to make comparisons in our society? Then, with student input, I searched for a gold-standard, project-based assessment that would allow them to demonstrate their understanding of the skills and concepts from a real-world perspective. I launched the exploration using the following hook: a TedTalk video by Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, examining the use of microloans in tackling global poverty. After watching the video, the students became curious about how best to use math skills and their new knowledge of microloans to combat poverty in the global world. In other words, what could have been an ordinary unit plan written by their teacher quickly morphed into an exciting student-led exploration guided by their input and interests!
Providing more student-directed experiences in the classroom, such as project-based learning, Harkness discussions, and choice and menu boards, not only inspires students, but provides them with the tools they need to move at their own pace, explore interests and passions, and become more independent learners and thinkers as they move toward adulthood. Additionally, gathering their input throughout the curricular planning process ensures that their learning experiences feel relevant, collaborative, and meaningful.
During the 2016-17 school year, I met with several Middle School students to gather their thoughts about the use of ERBs, and whether they would like to explore new student-centered models of standardized diagnostics for the future. After collecting their student feedback, we researched, purchased, and finally, implemented the new i-Ready adaptive diagnostic and instructional platform for the 2017-18 school year. Students have expressed that the i-Ready platform provides them with opportunities to build their literacy and mathematical reasoning at their own pace through engaging, interactive lessons, games, and videos of their choice. Their input, collaboration, and voice in the selection process were instrumental.
Similarly, a few weeks ago I walked into an eighth-grade English classroom where Middle School students were engaged in student-directed dialogue using the Harkness model as they explored their current read, "To Kill a Mockingbird". As their teacher positioned herself outside the Harkness circle to observe her students in action, it became evident that she had established clear norms and expectations for student-centered discourse in her classroom. The conversation was rich. The questions were thoughtful. The learning was powerful. And, ultimately, the student experience was authentic!
When we provide opportunities for our students to take the lead in their own learning, we also validate their voice, their worth, and their individuality. What a beautiful recipe for future success!