As we all continue to figure out ways to actively engage our learners during these extended school closures, here are some ideas that educators have shared with me that promoted and empowered student choice and voice. While we are grappling with many school-related challenges during these uncertain times, creating opportunities for learners to direct their own learning and take control of their learning could be more critical now than ever before because of how much of what is happening in our world is out of our control at this point.
In the end, I hope these ideas might be helpful to some of my fellow educators…
- Use this opportunity to give learners choices with what they can experience at home to extend their learning (we don’t have to call it HW). For example, create a menu of activities that gives students a voice in how they want to deepen and broaden their understandings in a specific content area. For example, a group of kindergarten teachers asks students to practice their developing vocabulary and phonemic awareness using a “word study menu.” The teachers provided their children with different activities to choose from that tap into different modalities and interests. These are as simple as writing their words in the steam in the shower, tracing words on a family member’s back, cheering the words like a cheerleader or building the words out of legos or different materials. The possibilities are endless and in the end, what the children (and hopefully their families) see as a fun project, game, or activity is helping to build their foundational skills. Although this example is specific to kindergarten, it is super easy to change it up for older students and across all content areas because the basic idea is giving children choices so they are empowered learners beyond the school day. For example, instead of having students read about the solar system in a textbook and answer the questions at the end of the chapter, give them some pertinent information and recommendations for age-appropriate (& vetted) sites they can use to continue reading and then give them a choice about how they could communicate their knowledge... maybe they could create a video about why Pluto should still be a planet or they could start a blog and write a diary as someone who works for NASA or create a science fiction picture book based on their exploration of the solar system... the possibilities are endless!
- Take experiences such as Genius Hour or MakerSpace and have the children engage in activities of that nature at home where they can try something new, create something from scratch or pursue a new passion! Whatever it looks like, it builds on the previous suggestion where students have choices for what they learn outside of school but gives them more independence over the actual process and product. This is something we explored at Cantiague Elementary after our Shared Decision Making Team (led by students, staff & parents) decided they wanted to try something different with HW. After much discussion, we launched Try It Tuesday! What was Try It Tuesday? Well, instead of doing traditional HW assignments, the students were challenged to try something new on Tuesday night and then share their experience with classmates on Wednesday. Whether it was learning how to cook a meal, make their bed, write a story, create a comic book, read a new genre of book, create a work of art, write a song or learn how to do a cartwheel, the students were encouraged to try something new (maybe alone or maybe with a peer or family member) based on an area of passion or interest and then share the experience with others. I think trying something like this (or Genius Hour) as we navigate uncertain times where many of us are feeling a lack of control due to the disruption of our daily routines is important because it could help empower our learners (& their families) to direct and control their own learning… just a thought!
- Genius Hour is another idea you may also want to try with students at this time. Of course, if this is something you have never tried before, it should be noted that I don’t know how easy it will be to launch while students are not physically in school. That being said, there are many resources available to help frame and structure the concept of Genius Hour (see below) so you may want to give it a try!
Genius Hour Resources