student voice

The Power of Student Choice

When we do technological innovation with our students, it is important the we keep the proper objectives in our minds. We want students to learn the content, innovate, collaborate, and think critically. These are absolutes.

That being said, the way they go about it does not matter so much. Does it matter how they do it? Do they all have to create something in the exact same way?

Recently, I had two projects in my classes, one for Frederick Douglass in my ELA class, and the other for the development of the North and South prior to the Civil War. I had been struggling to motivate and excite my students about ThingLink, but with these projects I opted instead to give students the option of using it. In other words, I let them choose the format for creating the project. They could create a ThingLink, an iMovie documentary, a blog post, a tri-fold poster, a Minecraft village, or any other ideas they they had.

The results far exceeded anything I could conceivably create. One pair of students created a professional-quality documentary, while another used a statistical map of the U.S. as the backdrop for a ThingLink. Others created blog posts protesting slavery by using Douglass’ life as evidence of its evils.

To be sure, I doubt that I could motivate every student to create a ThingLink or a village in Minecraft. Some were excited to write blog posts, but many opted out of that. The standards do not require students to master ThingLink or iMovie or Aurasma or Minecraft. Even the ISTE standards promote creativity and collaboration, but not specific apps or products.

In other words, when we learn about a fancy new tool at a conference, not every student will enjoy it, and that’s okay. It is one tool at our disposal, one way to motivate students.

Student Voice

This week’s #YourEduStory topic is student voice.

It is a fitting topic, because this has been my first year intentionally giving my students a voice in what we do. Although I do not do it every day, I make a point of periodically checking in with students to see how they feel about their learning and what activities help them learn the best. These have been surprising; sometimes activities that I tink have been duds have been very beneficial for them. I have also found that students often want to make room for whole-class instruction and discussion in addition to individual and group work. They also tell me that outline and Cornell notes help them master material. This feedback has played a crucial role in the direction our class takes for the rest of a given unit or for the course of a year.

I do hope to further empower students for the rest of this year and next year. I can do more by inviting them to help me design lesson plans, units, and rubrics. I also wish to empower them more in their writing and involve them with the assignment creation process. Empowering students is not quite so simple as handing over the reins; it is a guided process that can take weeks or months.

Nevertheless, it is something that I–and all teachers–must strive to do.