Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Choice 3.0

A common learning tool that's part of the teaching craft is student choices. Here's a look at the levels that choices are used for student engagement and empowerment.

Choice 1.0
When students are working on artifacts, options is an obvious strategy that is commonly used. Choices encourages student buy-in. When they select an option they're saying, "This is what I want to do."

Choice 2.0
One way to deepen options for students is to incorporate learning profiles, such as
multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner and/or Robert Sternberg, Thomas Armstrong), brain-based (Jensen), or other approaches (4-Mat, Meyers Brigs(test), True Colors (test), etc.). If we know how our students think and process problems, learning can be structured to suit those needs. For example, when the objective is to contrast diet programs (Adkins or Weight Watchers) in terms of effectiveness, students could demonstrate understanding through an essay, podcast, video, or presentation using posters or digital slides.

Another example, during a lesson, students need time set aside to process the blocks of instruction as a transition to the next activity. This can be accomplished by summarization--journaling, talk to a partner, outlining or webbing ideas or think-pair-share. We use a strategy or combination that suits the ways our students digest comprehension.

Choice 3.0
Have one option be "Student Created." The ultimate buy-in approach is to have students help structure their learning experience. I call it: Doing the Heavy Lifting. It can be too much to ask teachers to develop a customized version of a product for a small groups of students and individuals. There is lots to plan and keep track of. Time becomes a nemisis. When done, the investment of time can be well spent as student engagement rises, along with a belief that "I can do this."

These requirements need to be filled for success of Choice 3.0.
1. Establish clear criteria for a successful outcome.
2. Provide 1-2 options.
3. Allow students opportunity to revise proposals with a deadline for student proposals.

Clear criteria is important for the teacher as to what are the critical learning points that lessons must address, and assessments need to track for student growth. For example in building understanding of persuasive communication, criteria might include:

  • Main focal point
  • Word choice
  • Details, examples, and/or anecdotes
  • Counter arguement
  • Tone
  • Illustrations/Visuals

Clearly articulated criteria can be turned into an effective rubric, and used as part of a coaching conversation with students to guide their reflection on their learning. Students use the criteria as sign posts to keep them on a good path, without getting lost. There's nothing wrong with students wandering off the paved roads to trailblaze a new or innovative direction. The criteria allows for this, but also gives them guidance for how to get back on the main road if learning runs into a dead-end. Perhaps most important is that criteria allows for consistency with evaluation for the teacher and other judges to make effective assessments regardless of the product. Using the criteria for persuasive communication, students could explore use of media in governmental politics, product/services advertisements, or social issues. The final product might be an op-ed article, commercial (video or podcast), photo essay, protest music, or graphic novel. The teacher developed option might be the article. Students could propose alternatives that include ideas from this list or something else.

Teacher develop options provides students with choices that the resources are available in the classroom. Students may want to go along with these fixed choices ready-made for immediate use. These options also provide a model or template for students who want to create their own proposal. Criteria is tightly aligned with the models so that students can understand how their proposal must fit the requirements. A student proposal should be based on the resources that she has access to, which may or may not be available at the school.

When students develop their own proposals, teachers evaluate the pitch to accept, revise, or send back to start over. This development and revision process is an effective learning experience for students. The deadline helps students manage their time, and by when a proposal is approved. Otherwise they must choose from one of the teacher options to ensure enough time to complete the work.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Lesson on How it Should Have Ended...

In the Michigan Curriculum for English Language Proficiency Standards for K-12 (pdf) there are two standards for Reading that form the basis of a common learning activity:
  • R.8 Make inferences, predictions, and conclusions from reading
  • R.9 Analyze style and form of various genre
In many classrooms students get assigned the task to create an alternative ending to a story, play, or other form of literature. Sometimes there is the restriction to maintain the integrity of the genre for the story; other times students are free to transform the story into another genre while maintaining the integrity of the story. R8 and R9 have their fraternal twins in other states, and perhaps other countries. The task for alternative endings equally has its familiar incarnations.

As with any concept, students learning effectiveness increase when they find connections to the task, and/or are given options from which a student finds a pathway appealing. I saw this represented in a high school class studying Shakespeare's Othello. In one pivotal scene, Othello spies Iago conversing with Cassio. The two men talk of Cassio's romance with Bianca. Othello believes that the woman spoken of is not Bianca, but his wife Desdemona, which inflames Othello's jealousy and steers him towards a dark and tragic path.

The assignment for the students was to collaborate in teams and come up with a modern version of that scene.
  • One team had Iago sitting before a laptop using Skype (See VoIP Software) to talk to Cassio who's face is on the screen. Iago wears headphones so that Othello, hiding out of sight of the webcam, can only hear Iago's part of the conversation. With Iago's ill intent, you can imagine what he says that will ignite Othello's jealousy.
  • Another team set the scene at a basketball game. Cassio and Iago talk adamantly in the stands, as Othello sits in the stands directly across the court from them. Iago and Othello text each other regarding the conversation. Once again, Othello is seething.
A different approach is having students write alternative endings. Or as the following option demonstrates, let learners produce them. Here are two examples from Twilight and Lord of the Rings. Both not only change the ending while staying within genre, setting, and situation, they incorporate a humor that enhances the changes while staying true to the story. What literary analysis might be included to mine the thinking of students if they made similar learning artifacts?

Here's one more to make the point (More found at How It Should Have Ended):

What's great about these tasks is that those students or communities with the resources can choose these tasks. If there are students who do not have the resources, nor a manageable way to get access to the resources, a low tech or no tech option is provided as a choice for everyone.

I'm curious about other ways students are encouraged to be innovative in their thinking. What, perhaps, have some seen or heard about...?