It's award season, so I'm giving my students an award. A major award! I'm honoring them for stepping outside the comfort zone of the school system that they have been subject to for most of their lives, authoring their own learning, and in the process, enjoying it. However, this transition did not come easily, and it took them some time to adjust to this format. It's a format where they are no longer the recipients of their learning; now they're the authors.
With this post and the audience that Edutopia reaches, I would like to share their work in hopes that you will steal, adapt or remix some of these approaches in your own classroom. I want to share their highlights and their occasional fails. I do not teach a core subject; however I try to incorporate a variety of skills from other subjects. I teach digital literacy to a mixed group of high school students. I cover grades 9-12, and my class is roughly 20 students. I spend most of my class time serving as a facilitator and a resource for their learning. They do the rest.
I also attempt to make what they learn in this class relevant and applicable to their lives. Instead of a test that assesses basic recall and memorization, they present and demonstrate their learning. I remind them that this skill is imperative for their future no matter what path they choose. At one point they will have to present themselves and defend their work to a potential employer or thesis panel. They will have to adapt to a variety of work environments, people and tasks. There will rarely be a situation where recall and memorization are the only skills that will get them through the day.
Critical Thinking in Action
My classroom procedures are rather unstructured as well. Students know when they walk through the door that they have a task and a deadline. They collaborate with their teams, schedule weekly meetings with team leaders or project managers, and we meet as a class to assess the progress and address any questions or problems. A few of my students that are building and designing our digital citizenship website check Google Analytics daily to see how they can restructure the site so that it appeals to our audience. This is my formative assessment. In fact, it gives me real data that I can work with so that I can gauge a better understanding of my students' progress.
At the beginning of most units, I present a concept or idea through a video, image or article that leads to a discussion, provokes their thinking and drives further inquiry into the subject at hand. They present understanding through a video, a presentation, and by creating a website or posting to their blog. They're employing critical analysis and critical thinking by seeking out the answers to the questions they generate. They are discerning between credible and bogus information and understanding how to properly cite, organize and share their findings. They are creating surveys to elicit quantitative data and creating support for their assertions. They are building relationships and making connections. In every scenario, their questions and curiosity motivate their learning, while the technology tools available give them the opportunity to connect, share and promote their work a wider audience.
Awards and Rewards
And for all of their hard work and content creation, I am giving every one of them an award; however most of them wouldn't accept it. My students get more excited about their reach and how others react to the content they created. They are excited about this post and how many new users will hopefully visit their website and comment on their video.
They will receive a grade for their work, but a grade isn't the focal point. The focal point is the experience and what they are learning. They're learning that empathy matters in a digital world. They're learning that technology can be used to showcase their talents to a wider audience. They're learning to make the web work for them. They're learning to discern, filter and organize the information they collect. They're learning that transparency and responsible sharing can only help them. They're excited about new challenges daily and learning in a collaborative environment where they are not told what to do, but instead are learning through the decisions they make themselves.
Here is a list of links to the projects mentioned above:
As for me, the only award I need is feedback like this from student evaluations:
"This class has to be one of my favorites so far in high school because Mr. Marcinek is not really a lecturer and allows us to learn on our own and through hands on experiences. Lastly, the collaboration and networking techniques we learn are ones that I will need for the rest of my life and thanks to this class I will be one step ahead."