Saturday, August 6, 2011

Student Driven Learning

This summer I had to move to a new classroom.  As I unpacked my boxes of books and resources, I came upon my "big binders" box.  I recognized all of the binders except one.  It was full of stuff and as I opened it, the memories came rushing back.  It was a binder that contained the best learning/teaching experience I have had as a student and as a teacher.  It was from one of my master's classes and it taught me more about myself as an educator, and a learner.  It was an incredible example of what I would now consider a "flipped" classroom experience.  Ironically, it was the last thing I unpacked and placed on the bookshelf, and it seemed to yell at me, "Hey Dummy, this is what you are looking for!"

One of my goals for the new school year is to utilize student driven learning.  I have been collecting all sorts of resources to support my journey into this area.  Josh Stumpenhorst has a blog that I follow regularly and he is the impetus for making the jump.  When you click on his name you will be taken to his blog posts about student driven learning and many other topics.  In my 21 years of teaching, I have always been a risk taker and every time I have closed my eyes and jumped into something that another educator has shared with me I have not regretted it!  So what does the binder I found in a box and my goal of student driven learning  have to do with each other?  Good question!

The master's class that was contained in the binder was about issues in education but in reality it was about student driven learning.  The professor had turned the class over to us, his students.  We got to pick issues in education that we thought were important, assign readings and authentic work for our classmates to complete.  Then the following week during class, we guided the discussion based on our assignment and we graded the work that our fellow classmates turned in.  Talk about taking a risk for all members of the class.  For the professor, he had to trust the educators as learners.  He had to let go of control and have faith that we would provide rich learning experiences for our fellow classmates.  As students we had to prove to our professor and our fellow classmates that we could rise to the occasion and not only challenge each other but provide a thoughtful, meaningful assignment that would encourage a lively, deep discussion of education issues.  I had never worked so hard for a class in my life.  I spent hours each week reading, writing, and thinking about each incredible assignment based on an assortment of educational issues that were real for me in my daily practice.  

It was interesting because I did not want to disappoint my fellow students almost more so than my professor.  It was the ultimate example of student driven learning.  I am embarrassed that it has taken me 14 years to realize that I should have been doing more of this in my classroom.  I remember my professor telling us at the end of the semester that he was worried that we would not be able to handle the format of the class and take it to the place he was hoping we would.  We had exceeded his expectations and it was not until the end of the semester that we learned this was the first time he had done this with any of his classes.  We were the guinea pigs.  He closed his eyes, jumped and trusted us, his students.

So, as I begin a new year, I will be working to provide opportunities for my students to drive the learning.  I will make sure that I continue to trust their efforts by continually providing examples, having conversations and tracking their ideas and progress.  I plan on using technology tools such as collaborize, voicethread, glogster and prezi to facilitate discussions, share resources, and allow students to present their knowledge and understanding.  

Now on to standards based grading...