Student Choice Powering the Future of Education
Gone are the days of chalk and talk. Gone are the days of lectures for 60 minutes. Gone are the days of powerpoint slides that mandate note taking. And I say — Good Riddance.
As a teacher, I remember going through a lesson in these ways because I thought that was really important information that the kids should know. What better way to teach it than to jam it down their throats?
What took me only a year or so to realize, was that the important stuff that I lectured about, I then taught 4 other ways just so I knew they learned it. Why wouldn’t I just teach those ways instead and save time? I really didn’t know. So I stopped lecturing.
My relationship changed with the students because they came to expect something bizarre every day. I kept a routine, so it was never that nuts in there — but my concepts, ideas, examples, anecdotes, and delivery were Oscar worthy; every damn day. I got results, so I thought I had it figured out.
What I didn’t know, was that my choice of lesson style was the opposite of what they got in class during the rest of the day, so it was different, and therefore refreshing.
What I also learned, was that due to a copy machine situation — I learned one of the tricks to the trade back in 2003, when this concept was completely foreign to the point where it seemed ridiculous in the eyes of my administration. However, it worked better than anything I did.
Thanks to basically no budget, a copy machine that sucked (or maybe it was a xerox machine with the blue smelly ink) — but I only got to make a certain number of copies a semester or I had to pay for it, so at $32,000 a year — I had to figure something else out. Born out of desperation, was the notion of choice.
I went into the class and proposed to the student the following:
For this assessment you will have to complete one of the following five choices:
- Answer a 50 multiple choice question assessment
- Write an essay based on answering any 1 of the 3 questions
- Design a scene from the book that rewrites the section in a way that is the opposite of the meaning, showing you truly understand that part of the story
- Reenact a part of the book with other classmates, to elicit understanding of that part of the story
- Create a poster that would be a new book cover, side, and back of the hard cover, as your name as the author, your description as the critic on the back, and your art — accompanied with a description with why that’s the cover
The kids went nuts. Here’s what happened:
- Not one of them chose the multiple choice.
- Only one of them wrote the essay.
- The remaining 31 of them chose either designing a scene, reenacting, or a new cover.
Everyone had to share with the class what they did, and the hardest part about the assessment was keeping them quiet while working. I let them chose groups if they wanted, or work alone. I figured groups meant less grading, which it did. But I spent more time with the groups, because I had it.
During this week-long assessment, I facilitated around the room and checked on how they did, what they were doing, and helped when needed. For the presentations, we had a blast listening and sharing out. I had no doubt everyone read and understood what they were reading.
And everyone laughed at how I assessed my students and thought I was a joke. I loved it.
Some 18 years later, it’s the norm for assessment when looking for true comprehension. Why was it this way?
- We were lazy and taught what we wanted and how we wanted and planned how ever as long as we had one.
- College sets a really, really, really bad example. And that’s not teaching, that’s talking. Lecturing is another word for talking about information. Not teaching. Talking.
- We realized this didn’t work and slowly through trial and error ruled out any other possible viable reason why students weren’t learning all the way down to the old, “Kids are just so different these days,” reason that was just bananas. Rotten bananas.
- This was how it always was, and it sort of worked because no one knew any better — so efficacy was never in check.
After we blamed the changing kids, and after we blamed the system, we realized that it was our teaching. This wasn’t a bad thing, as long as we changed it.
Today, I’m thinking an entire school should be based on choice. I was recently challenged by Daniel Bauer, the creator of the Better Leaders Better Schools network — and he wanted to know some radical ideas of education reform. This challenge led me to this notion:
Why not an entire school system be based on student choice? Students get to choose when they want to go to school, so it may not be every day. Students choose what classes they take and inessence, what they want to study and learn. Students get to choose how they want to learn the subject matter through a series of choices that guide their own and unique path. Students get to really hone in on their own learning style and develop the learning skills necessary to go to any level of depth of topics and content — because they can.
The future of education, is student choice — we just haven’t embraced it yet.