Sometimes we throw ideas into the wind in our classroom and hope for the best. Even when we are intentional there are times that we just don’t know what will happen when we pass the baton to the kids.

But this is a risk we must take because keeping control for ourselves, grossly limits the students’ learning experiences, and for what? Our own comfort and ease of instruction?

Students must be put into a position of control over their own learning if we truly hope to make them life-long learners who are intrinsically motivated. By giving them opportunities to get involved in the design process, we allow them to show themselves that they are in fact capable of this task without our help.

Starr Sackstein, COO of Mastery Portoflio previously had the opportunity to experiment in her own classroom letting students rewrite the shape of a Shakespeare unit and the students didn’t disappoint. There were several ideas worth considering, but the one the class voted on, even replaced the one assignment that Ms. Sackstein was most confident about.

Although a little uncomfortable about the idea of just throwing out what Ms. Sackstein knew had worked in the past, she took her own advice and said yes to their idea, and let go of her own.

With previous classes, Starr had broken the play into pieces and completed activities with different acts, making sure to really dig deeply into all, getting a nuanced and robust experience with Shakespeare. However, this particular class wasn’t like classes she had in the past, and therefore things needed to change.”

Once the assignment was replaced Ms. Sackstein began working with the group of students who came up with the elected idea to design an assessment that went along with their new assignment.

As we sat down together, they will fleshed out the directions they felt needed to be constructed, and together we selected the standards the assessment addressed. Thinking about the end result first, Starr and her students planned backward to really break down and benchmark the assignment sheet so that all students were responsible for something unique. The design process also helped the students determine the appropriate success criteria.

The premise is that each group of three was given a character from the play (sticking with 11 of the main characters) and the students psychoanalyzed their assigned character. Using the text from the play, they determined actions and motivations and conducted research to develop a diagnosis and possible treatments. After the foundational work was complete, the student groups used their findings to begin a new project making a screencast or video of therapy sessions that unraveled the experience for the watcher spanning the length of the play.

This video was recorded by Starr Sackstein in 2016 at the time of the Shakespeare Unit.

At the end of the unit, the students participated in a gallery walk. During the walk, students displayed their own work and celebrated the learning of their classmates. Next, the students reflected on what they took away from the assignment.

This assignment was more complicated than the ones Ms. Sackstein had originally planned but it provided students an opportunity to explore ideas outside of the curriculum that may spark interest for their final research papers.

It’s a win-win because the class was excited by the opportunity to design a project and take a chance with a student-directed choice. As a teacher, Ms. Sackstein enjoyed learning more about her students than she would have with the original assignments, and let’s face it, different is sometimes more exciting for everyone.

At Mastery Portfolio we believe in providing opportunities for students to be in control of their learning. At every age and at every level, children are capable of making good choices, but we have to give them opportunities to practice while we watch actively to ensure they are all getting what they need.

Additionally, Mastery Portfolio’s MasteryBook helps teachers and students keep track of student progress and authentic conversations regarding mastery and student growth. Our communication tool makes it possible to engage students in creating their own learning path to meet their own goals.

In what ways can you empower students today to ensure that each of them gets an opportunity to take a meaningful risk? Please share

*This post originally ran on Starr Sackstein’s Education Week Teacher blog in February of 2016.

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