Student Design Yields Great Results

shutterstock_300056177After writing last month about giving my students a “free day,” I began to contemplate the end of the year. It is always such a crazy time: special events, end-of-year celebrations, and unexpected happenings inevitably interrupt instruction so that anything we are doing does not seem to be done well. Students lose their enthusiasm and often their ability to focus.

To counter this trend, I decided to try to harness the excitement of the free day and allow my students to design their own end-of-the year reading and writing project.

Taking a Leap

I told my students what I was thinking: you design a purposeful reading and writing project for the end of the year. You may work alone, with a partner, or in a group. Each project must contain a reading and writing component. If you are using mentor texts, you have to write at least a paragraph explaining how the text helped you with your writing. You also have to design a rubric, using previous class rubrics as a model. Finally, if you can’t come up with anything, I will assign you a text I think you’ll love, and you can read it and write a literary essay about it.

We brainstormed lots of options on the board and then they had time to think. I have to say, I was a bit nervous, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised and, in some cases, astounded.

I’ve had parents tell me that their children have come home saying this is going to be the best end of the year ever. They are excited about their projects and are taking ownership of their learning. Every day they come in ready to get to work, asking me about new aspects of projects, and digging for more information. There is energy and excitement in the room . . . in late May. Wow.

Project Ideas

The best ideas are coming from the students, of course.

One of my favorites comes from three girls who are working on writing fantasy. Two of the girls have been working for a while on a book outside of class. They wanted to bring in the third girl and decided that she would write a companion text, creating biographies of the characters and maps of the worlds in which they live.

shutterstock_392389606Two other students are working on a poetry anthology, analyzing mentor texts and trying copy changes–all the way down to abstract concepts and syllabication. Students are creating board games, informational picture books, and websites. It is a bit chaotic, but totally worth it.

Capturing the Power

I want this kind of excitement and energy all year in my classroom. But how? How do I meet the needs of my learners, deliver the required curriculum, and have the same level of student engagement? I’ve learned a little about Project Based Learning, which seems to fit, but I need to learn more.

This will be the question that sits in my mind all summer as I read and plan for next year. Rather than the best “end of school ever,” I want every year in my classroom to feel like the best learning ever. I suppose that is the never-ending quest of all teachers. Right now, I’m going to enjoy these last few weeks as I watch the thinking and learning in action, and allow this to inspire me for the future.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

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