Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Letting students inside the process

Clarence has a great post called The Things I Carry. He talks about things he has given up in his classroom and things he is going to give up. He has what, to me at least, is a great idea:
This year I'm starting off the year with having the kids look at the required outcomes for the ELA (english language arts) curriculum. There are a whole lot of them and I've decided to start with this one document since it is the one I am most comfortable with. I have placed all of the outcomes onto a spreadsheet, and in the fall I plan on having small groups of kids take one or two outcomes, write it up in kid friendly language, make up a rubric for assessing this outcome and then make a work sample that would meet it. Once all of this documentation has been produced, it will all be assembled into a binder which kids can access. But this is all background work. The purpose of it is to give kids choice about what they are learning.
This part of the idea is important, I think. It takes the outcomes and makes them accessible to the students. After this step, you can be sure that the students know what it is they are expected to do during the year. And they have have more than a vague idea of how they could demonstrate that they have met an outcome. I think this gives students very valuable tools to use throughout the year.

He then gives an idea of what students would these tools and what it might look like in the classroom:
For example, if we are doing a unit on present day societal issues, at the beginning of this unit, I plan on having the kids choose possibly four or five of these outcomes that they want to pursue over the unit. They will then have to collect evidence and conference with me, showing me they have met the outcome. By years end, they should have spreadsheet that shows they have completed all of the outcomes. Done on a Google spreadsheet, we will be able to see its revision history, make comments on it, etc.
This is such an incredibly simple and yet profound idea. It lets students in on the process: Why do we make them do the things we make them do? How do we decide what they do when? It is transparency in the classroom on a daily basis. It gives the students choice. It trusts them to understand that there are certain things that have to be done. It gives them ownership -- or at least can help foster ownership -- of what goes on in the class.

As I am not currently employed, I can only dream about this. But I would really like to try it. I hope Clarence will blog about this process throughout the year.

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