A few weeks ago I wrote about giving students choice in end-of-year reading and writing projects, in an attempt to maintain enthusiasm for learning into mid-June, which is a challenge no matter how motivated your learners are. I’d never done this before, but I decided to jump and gave the students a “Purposeful Reading and Writing” assignment.
Students had to design their own project that had to involve both reading and writing at a 5th grade level or higher. They were allowed to work with a partner, in a small group, or alone. I had no idea how or if this was going to fly. Idea sheets were submitted for approval, and then my students were off and running.
For the past two weeks I have monitored progress, given feedback, and watched as students navigated peer, technology, and learning issues–the scope was too broad, they needed more information, they were in over their heads, etc. There were days when I doubted what we were doing.
But last week, on a hot Thursday afternoon, someone walked in my room and said, “Whoa, what’s going on?” I asked what they meant. “Look at them–they are all engaged.” I looked around and realized they were. Without me, without any fun distractions, they were all engaged with their own projects.
It was beautiful.
Students’ Soaring Ambitions
Monday was our peer showcase. Projects were laid out and students were instructed to go around with post-it notes, leaving positive, specific feedback and wonders, which is a nice way to say, “I’m wondering about this and didn’t see it in your project…could you tell me more?” I was (for the most part) incredibly pleased with the results and, in some cases, completely blown away.
Projects ranged from Google Presentations on the Holocaust to a 175-page book, complete with a companion text of biographies of the characters. There were board games about topics of interest, and there were poetry anthologies. The students were proud and so was I.
This is definitely something I will do again next year. Of course, I will tweak it and have more scaffolds in place to bring up the quality of projects for those students who can’t manage an independent piece on their own.
I learned a lot from the past few weeks, but the most important lesson is this: when students are ready to take on their own learning, when they have the knowledge and tools necessary, and when they are passionate about what they are doing, amazing things can happen.
Happy end of the school year to us!
Beth 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.