Student Directed Learning and Assessment

A wise educator once encouraged me to attain my Master’s Degree in Education Administration.  When I naively asked why, she suggested that the mundane routine of teaching students in the classroom year after year could get old.  Some 13 years ago, as a probationary teacher, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that idea.  Each day in the classroom was like finding a new ride at Coney Island.  Bright lights. loud music, moving quickly with no warning of immediate direction change was common place in those years.  Often, I found my head spinning, my stomach churning amidst the excited cheers of children and ringing of bells.

Interestingly, I have found enthusiasm and energy in the day-to-day change that occurs in education.  With new challenges each year and with exciting new tools to use while teaching students, I have found that the once suggested mundane routine of teaching is not an accurate description of my experience as an educator.

With my inner turmoil regarding standardized testing and in my unrest of the sit-and-get approach to teaching, I have discovered new strategies for my classroom that certainly seem to engage more students more of the time.  I am transitioning to more project based learning from the traditional assign, discuss, and test.   With the plethora of web 2.0 tools available and the growing efficiency of technology in the hands of our students, (Please check out my post on all of the Web 2.0 Tools my students have used in class this year.) I have found there are much more exciting avenues to engage students.

Being a teacher of language arts, it is imperative that my students experience reading great novels, poetry, and short stories, fiction and non-fiction alike.  Another essential component of teaching language arts is the ability to write effectively.  Furthermore, students must learn strategies to present their efforts with pride and enthusiasm (check out some of the presentation my students created this yearThere are many elements that must be measured and balanced to concoct a learning experience that will meet core standards. I believe that project-based learning can provide a well-grounded platform for such expectations.

To take this concept one step further, I have finally accepted the reality that my students can help in forming appropriate assessment for their newly gained knowledge.  Recently, in a discussion with several of my students, I realized they were having some anxiety about the final semester 2 exam for my class.  They really wanted to know what the writing prompt was going to be as they have experienced in-class essays all year long.  After some discussion, I finally suggested they may want to write the prompt.  Whoa…right?

Two students have willingly taken on that responsibility and are collaborating on this new project.  They have stopped by my classroom twice since to make propositions, both times I declined their suggestions.  Instead, I have coached them on how to create the prompt and challenged them to think outside the box to use their creativity. Often, when students ask me what they should be doing for their projects or what exactly it is that I am looking for in an essay, my standard response has been, “You are limited by your own creativity.” Some, maybe even most, don’t like this response because they are looking for concrete direction that will help them earn the letter grade they have tied their success and failure to and are so desperately seeking.

One of the two students currently working on the final essay writing prompt also told me that she was going to create a concrete rubric when I asked about assessing the essay. Both of them even volunteered to grade the essays.  As wonderful of an idea as that sounds, I am not sure that I am ready for that yet…I guess that might happen if I were to coach them on how to complete that task.

I am interested to see how this latest experiment of allowing students to create an assessment works out.  Both students told me they would have it emailed to me by the end of this weekend.  I am looking forward to their creativity and I know their efforts in creating this essay is a great learning experience.  I am hoping I will be able to encourage these two students to share their experiences by posting comments as a part of this blog.

Student directed learning and assessment engages students and takes them beyond the four walls of the classroom to discover learning at a whole new level.  I want my students to grow as learners and as people.  Furthermore, I hope their creativity grows as they expand their experiences in education.


What follows here is the essay prompt my students came up with for the final exam.  One of the two students I mentioned earlier has agreed to be a ‘guest blogger’.  She will be posting a blog about her experiences in Eng 9 Lit/Comp and the use of Web 2.0 Tools later this week.  I am so proud of my students.

Here is the prompt:

Every unit we completed this year in English 9 Lit/Comp included an I-Search/Research project as a conclusion for each unit.  Furthermore, it was mandatory for each project to include a hands-on product and some form of multi-media to present your project.  We had the opportunity to explore several Web 2.0 Tools to use as our multi-media option.

In a well organized essay, choose one or two I-Search/Research projects you or your group completed and explain how having to use a Web 2.0 Tool changed your presentation.  Think about the process of choosing the tool you used and how using that tool made your presentation experience different than past presentations.  Secondly, explain whether or not you believe these tools improved your presentation and describe whether or not using these tools made creating your presentations easier or more difficult.  Finally, tell whether or not you will use these tools in the future and, if so, explain how you might use these tools outside of school.


About jpsteltz

Proud husband and father of four; Literacy Specialist; Reading Teacher; Literacy Coach; HS ELA Teacher; Published Author
This entry was posted in #edchat, Education, Education Administration, Educational Leadership, students, Teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Student Directed Learning and Assessment

  1. Great ideas! When students are able to assess their own work it gives them ownership and responsibility. I think students also are forced to see if they gave their best when they have to reflect on what grade they deserve, especially when comparing their work against their peers. I love that challenge to your students, “You are limited by your own creativity!” In my opinion many students aren’t challenged to think creatively then struggle with this in their working environments.


    • jsteltz says:


      It means so much to me that you have taken the time to read and respond. What you have done for so many educators across the globe by sharing, promoting, and supporting effective teaching strategies and tools has helped bring a whole new dimension to my teaching experience.

      Thanks so much for reading and responding here. I appreciate all you do!


  2. This is wonderful. As you may have heard, I’ve come under some attack and some praise for arguing for something similar in my “This Is Your Brain on the Internet” course at Duke and I’m also exploring ways that we can “crowdsource grading”–really have students responsible for setting their own high standards for learning–at all levels in all situations. Here’s a url for one of these articles and you can find others by using the tag “grading” on the site. Bravo!


    • jsteltz says:


      Thanks for sharing the links. I look forward to having the opportunity to peruse. Education is ever changing; I have come to the conclusion that I must adapt as well. It’s been a wonderful year of teaching…I am looking forward to more.


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  4. Jackie says:

    I love the idea of having the students create the final exam prompt! I have been thinking about ways to make my final exam more useful, and a better experience for the students, and this might be a great solution–thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jsteltz says:


      Thanks so much for reading and responding. It’s wonderful to know that something I have put out there is worthy enough to spark an idea in someone else. Thanks for sharing and please, please, please let me know how this turns out as I will also share how my students have done with their project.


  5. Congrats John on continuing to explore different ways of demonstrating knowledge right up through the last day of school. I’m happy that you have students ready to take on the challenge of creating the class essay and rubric. Did they email the prompt? I see your classroom as a student centered constructivist classroom – yeah! It’s very hard to get to this point as it means giving up control and not always knowing where things will go. I remember the days of taking a graduate course on “Unit Design” which required that we know the end result first and plan our lessons backwards. Hm, I’m not sure I ever really believed in that methodology. I really hope your feeling good about the fact that you have students that are capable enough to step up to the plate and test their own learning. As much as I try to be a student-led teacher, that’s something I would never be brave enough to do. My students are taking an objective Quia test this week… So hats of to you John – I’d love to know how it all goes.


  6. Pingback: Guest Blogger: A Student’s Reflection 2009-2010 « John Steltz-Teacher/Author

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