When undergoing change, there are a lot of questions and unknowns. Teachers struggle with the appearance of giving up control of their classes and the learning that goes on in the classroom. This often where the lines seem to blur between teaching and educating.
Teachers create a multitude of different activities to help their learners work through the curriculum. There is no loss of control. The difference often comes because the teacher is no longer standing up front of the group. But learning doesn’t stop.
Teachers when building their plan for the students need to think on a level that is different from the typical classroom experience. To build choice activities, teachers need to understand the level of performance and the goals of the learning necessary. Often this means scaffolding and structuring learning in a new way for students. Perhaps it is leveled – meaning there are assignments students must do, things they can do, and things they want to do.
Creating this much choice can be overwhelming for all parties.
For teachers, I recommend starting small. In my own experience, I began with trying different types of activities in one unit. A problem-based activity was tried one year asking students to look at climate change and what humans can do. The next year a different problem was introduced, asking students to choose a new UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Changing and modifying laboratory and manipulative activities were also experimented with. Individualized questions, fewer questions but more specific answers, and questions for further investigation allowed me to push students in their learning beyond the simple ‘report what you saw’ to the ‘how did what you see change the Earth system?’ Manipulative activities that ask students to look at features found around the world and extrapolate to understand the phenomena that push these Earth systems.
By changing the tried and true activities into activities that push learners to use 21st-century skills (analyze, interpret, argue, and explain – to name but a few). Students are able to apply their learning to new situations and expand on simple memorization to a fuller understanding of concepts and interactions.
Teachers can choose to implement all the modified and tried activities as they build activities they feel meet the needs of each learning goal. Remembering that students do not need to complete everything. By giving them leveled choices, students can investigate concepts they enjoy and want to learn about in greater depth, while still completing the essential activities.
I like the idea of giving students more choice within the idea of ski-runs – yes, green circle, blue square, and black diamond. Once students are beyond the ‘must-dos’, they can select more activities to complete. Their choices might be self-imposed or the teacher could suggest these activities when mastery of the content is lacking. At the beginning of the year, teachers could assign the further activities a level. Levels would be based, on requirements and difficulty. By asking students to complete a certain number – 8 green circles (1 per unit); 4 blue squares (1/2 the units); and, 2 black diamonds (1/4 the units) – they will be able to look through the list and select the assignments that most interest them.
The scaffolding of these additional requirements is of the utmost importance. In must be clear to students from the beginning what the requirements and rubrics are for each. Each assignment needs to have a blur that clarifies the topic in student-friendly language – this means truly thinking out the blurb. Perhaps in a magazine questionnaire style – ‘are you interested in…’, ‘have you ever wondered about…’, ‘is engineering and design a passion…’, etc. By giving clues, students can easily choose potential activities from the start and ensure they accomplish the full set of expectations.
As an instructor, it means you have to be ready for a lot of unknowns. Knowing a little bit about everything is helpful, but you don’t need to be an expert in everything to assist students to learn through activities you might not fully understand. When concerns arise, there will be solutions, people to assist, and ways to figure out what is manageable – use your resources. For example, a student wants to build a prototype, but you have no idea how to draw materials to print on a 3D printer. The technology teacher can help, YouTube videos can help, and trial and error can get both you and the student more versed in the technology and/or content.
Creating choice for students allows them to feel not only ownership of their learning, but allows for learning for feel natural and based on topics that are relevant to the learner. I suggest trying a couple of choice type activities – even starting small where the initial content is the same, but the method the students demonstrate their understanding varies (using the multiple intelligences).
Try something. Modify it. Learn and grow together.