Technology allows for teachers to create environments where student interest can help to drive the learning process. That sounds good in theory, but what does it look like in practice?
Here is a multi-step process that can be used in a history classroom.
1. Speed Search
At the beginning of a unit of study, in the first class period where the unit is introduced, have students spend 12-15 minutes working in pairs on a device to look up all of the information related to the unit. For example, if the unit covers the Great Depression and the New Deal, give students the broad parameters to begin their speed search. Have each pair generate a list of topics of interest uncovered in their search, and post their information to a Google Document or class blog with source citations included. At the end of the set time period, share as a class and begin creating categories and themes for the unit of study, grouping the information as students discuss and disclose what they discovered. Display the Google Document for the class to see and for the teacher to help facilitate the discussion of big ideas and concepts. A student can take on the role of moving the information around inside the document. (Dr. Mark David Milliron has spoken about utilizing this "speed search" approach in engaging students right away.)
2. Decision by Debate
Have students switch to a new partner to engage in a debate about which topics the class should study. Give students three minutes for this exchange. Then have each pair share out with the class, which can rank the topics by interest.
3. Main Characters
Inside of the themes developed with the class, have students again work with a partner for 12-15 minutes to research which key players and individuals might be involved in the theme. For example, if the topic is the Great Depression and New Deal, key individuals might include Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Huey Long, or Dorothea Lange. Each pair should decide which individual is most interesting and compelling to study. At the end of the time period, have students find a new partner and share information to see if there is crossover in terms of which individuals surfaced as compelling figures. Again, each pair should post their information with sources into the Google Document.
4. Themes and Teams
Pull the class together to share the list of individuals. See if students can organize those individuals into some of the unit themes developed in the first activity.
5. Analyzing Perspectives
At this point, the class can pause to look at all of the initial information gathered. The teacher can then talk about sources and where, how, and why the class-compiled list looks as it does. Which sources did students use to find their information? Wikipedia, YouTube, or another source? The class can have a discussion on the manner in which it pooled its information. This also provides the teacher with invaluable feedback and data from which to design the unit of study, by seeing the focus of student search and where the need exists to broaden the class perspective.
6. Steering Co-Creation
By the conclusion of this first class, the teacher and students have co-created a framework for the unit of study. The teacher then needs to dig into the information generated by the class to see if there are key pieces missing, or significant individuals omitted from the student lists. At the start of the second class period, the teacher can speak to the framework for the unit, interjecting new information that needs to be added, to broaden perspective and point of view, which are essential skills for a history classroom.
7. Point of View
The teacher can assign each student to play the part of a historical character during the unit of study, with the charge of becoming an expert. Each student can be tasked with examining an original source document related to the individual, and maintaining the perspective of the historical character. Once these parts have been assigned, the class can create a seating arrangement to determine which like-minded characters should sit near each other or at the same workstation. This creates an interesting opportunity for student dialogue that will begin to get them thinking about point of view. As the unit of study progresses, with new information learned, the class can engage in this exercise to see if the seating arrangement needs to be modified.
8. Anatomy of a Buy-In
The class is now ready to dig into the unit of study. There is buy-in, with the teacher having listened to the students, engaged them in the learning process, and co-created a framework to proceed. The class has developed a list of sources at the outset, with the teacher adding other sources. Instead of a top-down approach, the teacher has proceeded from the bottom up, putting the focus on each student to be the agent in the learning process.
Have you tried to co-create the framework for a unit of study with your students? What steps did you take, and how did the process work for you?