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 year) There 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.