Research: Student Ownership, Choice, and Design

At the beginning of March, I read an editorial in the New York Times titled, “Let Kids Rule the School.” I was  drawn to the title because I’ve always felt, to some degree, that my job as a teacher is to make myself obsolete.  That is, to reignite some type of motivation for independent learning while helping students (re)learn how to learn and think on multiple levels on their own.

The article presents a group of high school students in Massachusetts who design and run their own small school within a school.  The eight students, including two who were on the verge of dropping out before this project, created a more rigorous reading curriculum than that of the school’s AP English courses, and sought both math teachers and online sources for help with math equations.  They also taught each other.

Admittedly, at first, the idea of letting “kids” design their own curriculum seems idealistic at best and anarchic at worst. Yet, I couldn’t help but think about the motivation that comes with choice and independence, especially for kids in their late teens. And, more related to our class and my project, how the Internet and blogging could play a large role in the success of a project like this.

Yet, the students were not completely left on their own; they did have supervision and guidance from a counselor and a few teachers. And the project was incredibly successful, with one student who had been failing math teaching other students how to solve probability problems.  The article highlights the fact that the success of students designing their own curriculum wasn’t remarkable because these were not all honors students, but instead, the students “are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience.”

Granted, my project is not about students creating their own curriculum (maybe I’ll save that for an Ed.D. dissertation someday…).  Right now, I’m interested in blogging as a way to build higher order thinking and writing skills.  I think student choice and design play a large role in the appeal of blog writing for students–not necessarily the online “place” that they’re typing their text into, but the type of writing that they’re doing and the types of conversations that they’re entering into while they write (and read).  It is this idea that I’m exploring in my project.

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One comment on “Research: Student Ownership, Choice, and Design

  1. As an educator in Massachusetts, I am delighted to hear about this small school within a school project. Even more amazing is to hear about these two students who were on the verge of dropping out. Stephen Krashen explains, “in order for input to be understood and learned, it must be presented in a low-anxiety, comfortable environment for risk taking. A student’s affective filter must remain low so that learning will occur” (Mora-Flores 7). By having the autonomy to create their own curriculum, these students were able to create a rigorous program. These students clearly took onwership of their own learning and were succesful at doing so. As educators, we have to create opportunities such as these in which we include choice of topic, ideas, and discuiions. We need to organize this by including the Core Standards if we want our students to be successful.
    Blogging is another tool that will allow our students to become succesful in their writing especially as they are exposed to different types of texts and structures. This idea for a project is an excellent idea. The flexibility to write about different topics will allow students opportunities to make connections to what they have read as well as build their background knowledge as they discover the world around them.

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