' I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder how we could have tolerated anything so primitive.' John W Gardner
I’ve had enough. I used to love my job, but I just can’t do it anymore. Forty percent of my students are failing because they can’t/don’t/won’t do their work. Something is wrong. REALLY wrong.
Before you think I have totally lost my mind please let me explain.
For the last eight years I have worked at a school where we have a tremendous amount of access to technology. Like most teachers, I started out by having my students locate information on the Internet. From there I began to have them create projects such as short movies. The next step was blogging and using different tools to reach out beyond the walls of our classroom to connect with others. I vary the types of things we do in class, but it just isn’t enough. I don’t feel like they are learning skills that will help them be successful in life. As much as I would like to think that my classroom is student-centered, it is still very much teacher-centered. I So I’m going to stop what I have been doing and try something different. Starting in January my students are going to control of their learning.
I teach Social Studies in an alternative school where most of my students are juniors and seniors. I have approximately 40 student that are in my class for two hours twice a week and for one hour every other Friday for one hour. The average length of a quarter is nine weeks which means that my students spend about 40 hours in my classroom. Due to the nature of our program we do not give homework so every assignment must be completed in class. When we come back from break in January each of my students will complete an individualized learning plan. This plan will include four topics that students select based on the focus of the class. (As I am typing this I am already questioning why I would limit my students to a particular focus so this might change. The classes that their home schools require them to take might determine their topics. At my school I teach “Social Studies” and I have the freedom to teach a variety of topics.) I will have a list of topics that are based on based on the Nebraska Social Studies standards for students to choose from. During the first couple days of class students will select their topics and come up with questions about that topic to help them guide their research. With hundreds of topics from which to select, I hope my students will become more engaged in the learning process. One of my goals is to teach them how to do smarter and more efficient research. This is something that all too often we assume students know how to do. Most of my students do not have the skills to find information and evaluate it. This will be a focus in my new classroom.
Each student will also determine what their final product of their research will be. It could be a video, slideshow, infographic, Wikipedia entry or any number of other things. I will work with students to create a rubric.
All of my students need to practice their written and verbal communication skills. For each of their topics they will have to connect with an expert in that particular field. This might be someone at a museum or a professor at a university. It could be an author or someone that I am able to connect them with through Twitter. Ideas for where to find these experts will be part of their learning plan.
Earlier this week I took the time to ask my students something that I have been meaning to for some time now. I simply asked, “If you could learn about anything today what would you choose to study?” I compiled a list of their responses. I was surprised at the incredible range of responses and that so many of them are interested in topics that are typically taught in school. I am going to allow my students to devote 20% of their class time to studying a topic of their choosing. There will be some parameters and guidelines, but I want to help my students rediscover a passion for learning.
Maybe this is the worst idea ever and it will be a complete disaster, but maybe it will be the best thing I have ever done for both myself and my students. I cannot continue to force my students through the motions of doing assignments that they don’t care about. They need to take ownership in their learning. They need to truly care about what they are learning. I don’t know what else to do except grant them permission to take charge of their learning.
I want to send a huge thank you to Noa Gutow-Ellis for providing me with the inspiration to finally do what I know is right for my students.