Students pursuing their passion: an update

(Hear author read this post)

Earlier this week, I posted an open-ended assignment in which my students were able to identify a topic of their choice, learn about the topic, and share their knowledge with the world.  Today is day number three of student progress and I am happy to report both failure and success.

I say happy to report failure, because some of the students are really struggling to wrap their head around this assignment.  Many students consistently ask me what to do or if they can do this or that.  To these questions I “politely” reply, “It’s not my project”.  The students are also struggling to identify a topic about which they are truly passionate.  They have not been asked to guide their own learning before and many of them are failing.  Yet, as we all know, this “failure” could be the greatest success of their k-12 experience.

Many of the students are running with the projects.  I see activity on twitter late into the night.  Students are working collaboratively within and across class periods.  Students are collecting and organizing vast amounts of information via digital tools and beginning to create complex and interconnected products to demonstrate their learning.  Students are studying anything from endangered animals, to baseball, to the converse company, to the cultural differences between two countries.

Today, I made a mistake.  I met with each student/group of students to discuss their progress.  They showed/described to me what they have learned, how they were keeping track of their learning, and how they intended to share their learning.  After each discussion I asked, how would you grade yourself based on the last three days?  This is my mistake.  I am playing into my and their deep rooted, but inaccurate, notions of what it means to learn.  Moving forward I will ask students, “What do you need to work on?” and “How will you move your learning/project forward?”

Fortunately, this project will continue for quite some time.  I hope for some students the project continues indefinitely.  For others, I know the project will end with the school year.  While I am having students spend much class time working on the project, the goals I am promoting and the benefits for students far outweigh any esoteric content I might not get covered.  My plan is to spend some time each week on the project and some time each week working to understand what the state DOE deems appropriate.  I wonder which the students and I will enjoy more? :)

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4 Responses to Students pursuing their passion: an update

  1. GNA says:

    J. I’m thinking your angst here is semantic rather than substantive. Asking students to rate (versus grade) their progress is necessary if we want to encourage movement toward some goal(s), right? Now, when students don’t yet have a topic, their goal for the day is quite different than some of their peers and than those you have conveyed explicitly and implicitly for the endeavor. How would it be if you asked students to articulate (say out loud or write out) their own rating scale, one that makes sense to them, and they way they characterize successes and set-backs over time. I’m certain the spirit of your check-in was collaborative and motivational. I imagine it to be based upon a belief that people need ways to order and evaluate their experiences (grading being a popular one of course) to move along with increased insight towards meeting their own goals and those set for them by others. I appreciate your sharing this story with us, thank you. GNA


  2. Chad Sansing says:

    Bravo, Jerrid, for giving your students the opportunity to learn about their passions and themselves as learners. I recognize a lot of what you describe from my own classroom right now, as we, too, pursue self-directed learning.

    I think self-assessment is key to perpetuating and recording this type of learning; I’m sure you and your students will find useful language apart from grades.

    We’ve found student-drafted schedules to be helpful in designating “research days” and “making days;” our schedules also let students assign me dates to check their work and offer my own feedback. We just started using daily entrance/exit slips for goal setting and self-assessment on what we attempt to finish each class period. I hope some of these ideas might be of use to you and some of your students. Certainly there’s a need to differentiate the amount of support given to each student and group in relation to his, her, or its readiness to pursue work independently. I think students are on a spectrum of need for instruction in how to begin and follow through.

    I look forward to reading more!

    Kudos to you and your brave students,


  3. Carlan says:

    I just finished a self-directed project as well. One thing that I found very successful was teaching the students how to reflect on what they learned, how they learned it, and what it means to them. We spent a lot of time talking about different learning styles, multiple intelligences, etc.I still did assess work, but only when they were able to reflect properly on the goals they had set for themselves and what they had actually learned


  4. Pingback: What will become of teacher education? | Teaching as Dynamic

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