Friday, July 3, 2015

Freedom of Choice

It's Independence Day weekend.  I grew up outside of Philadelphia, I know all the words to Elton John's Philadelphia Freedom, and I marched in the Bicentennial Parade in the City of Brotherly Love.  Here I sit, 39 years later, considering the value and importance of freedom - especially freedom of choice within my classroom....  Because, as the fine folks at Adobe point out in their advertisement - you can Learn More.
 

“To give over control of your classroom to your students, to trust them to learn and use the tools and the environment you’ve created — it’s terrifying. And the first time I did it I had no idea what I would get back. I was blown away by what students produced." 

Bethany Bernasconi 
Dean of Science and Engineering
Windham High School in New Hampshire


I hear you, Bethany!  Student choice is a powerful thing.  It's also incredibly terrifying to think that someone might stop by your room while kids are mid-project, wondering what the heck is going on in the free-for-all environment that is whirling around the classroom.

The folks at Mind/Shift outlined Bethany's school's vision for self-paced learning in an article entitled Finding the Most Creative Ways to Help Students Achieve at Their Own Pace, by Katrina Schwartz.   Certainly, every teacher aspires to provide rigorous and rich learning experiences for their students -- and it's very easy to do that when students are highly-motivated, as long as they don't fear the idea of taking risks.  (This eliminates the wonderful "what do I do for an A" mentality as well as giving students the freedom to fail without penalty, if they're reaching to do something great.)

The odd thing, though, is that the world thinks that education a generation ago worked "just fine," so there's no reason to try and improve upon the structure of the system.  It's important to consider that with smartphones in their pockets, students today have virtually instant access to facts that their parents or grandparents were forced to commit to memory.

So how do teachers manage 30 independent projects, and still achieve the competency mastery required? 

Excellent question.  The answer is in motivating the students, or in finding what motivates the students individually, to learn to seek answers, and reflect upon their discoveries.  Much in the same way that teachers seek answers to tapping into young minds in the most effective way possible.