Armed with some theory and a few practical ideas, I decided to try something new with my class - an exit assignment entitled “I want to know more about……”
The concept behind the assignment was basic: give students complete ownership over a topic/ research question which they wanted to learn more about.
I didn’t provide a list of “approved” topics or recommended list of questions. From start to finish student were given complete choice.
To assist the students, we brainstormed some of the big themes of the course and discussed some “current & controversial events” that linked to those themes.
To provide further focus to their research I asked them to think about a question they want to answer and understand deeply.
I also gave the students complete choice as to how they would share their findings with the class. The only directive I gave them was that they couldn’t “bore” the audience.
I purposely chose to not discuss grades for the assignment. Instead, we focused on “discovering an answer to their question”.
The students chose some of the most interesting and engaging topics that I have ever heard in my class, including:
- Why I want to join the United Nations Police force and how I can best do that?
- How to take care of your personal safety in Vancouver?
- Was the assassination of Osama Bin Laden legal under international law?
- Should marijuana be legalized in Canada?
- What is the correlation between mental health and criminal behavior?
- Are Young Offender given too much leeway in crimes they commit?
Despite the fact that no “grades” were awarded, students were genuinely interested in their work and took great pride in sharing their findings. Not one student (to this day) has ask me: “how much is this worth” or “do we have to do it?”
I learned an important lesson in the power of student choice and how to intrinsically motivate them and their learning.
Other Lessons Learned
- As a teacher I found myself working on a more “one on one” basis with students.
- The very nature of the assignment shifted the focus from teaching to learning.
- Grades don't always motivate students. (Late today, the one student who had not presented their findings, searched me out and made an appointment to show me his Prezi. He was so excited when I offered him "the Principal's desk top computer and office" to share his presentation!)
- For this to be most effective I had to give up control!
I have seen a glimpse of what Personalized Learning can look like. Next year I plan to give away more control of the learning in my class and place it firmly on the shoulders of my students.
Paradoxically, it appears that the more control I "give away" the more student engagement I get in return!