Class Update Six - I am Done

This is yet another update from my Language Arts classroom. For those that have yet to check this blog list out, you can read about my initial motivation for a student driven classroom, how to “give it up”, an initial class update, and updates titled “It’s About the Learning”, “Learning Should be Viral”, “One on One is the Best”, and “Sub Plans”. All of these updates are experiences from my classroom as related to my decision to hand over the learning decisions to my students.

My latest update comes from something that happened this past week. When initially making the decision to move to a student driven classroom, I knew of one potential problem that I would inevitably encounter. My colleague, Rob Hunt and I realized that when we gave our students the list of standards and said, “go”, we would have students all over the map. In addition, we knew that even though students had until the end of the school year to finish their work, we would have some students finish early. Between the two of us, we predicted we would start seeing some “finishers” in about the middle of May. That would give us plenty of time to think of some extension and enrichment activities for those students to work on for the remaining couple of weeks of school.

Well, we were wrong. I had a student turn in a ton of work last week and essentially finish her standards. Basically, she was finished with her 6th grade Language Arts learning standards by the middle of April and we still have about six weeks left in the school year. Not only did she finish her work, but she mastered these standards with diligence and perfection. She was done with 6th grade well before 6th grade was even over. It makes me think it would be neat to be able to send her on to 7th grade right then…clearly she is ready.

Once this student turned in her work she sat down and read her free reading book for the remainder of the period. I then frantically tried to think of what I was going to do for the next six weeks with her in my class. I was planning on creating some alternate and enrichment assignments but nothing felt like anything more than busy work to me, which I did not feel right doing. In a discussion with my partner in crime on this project, Rob, he just said, “ask her what she wants to do.” While initially this may seem like a cop-out, it was perfect.

When this nameless student came into class the following day we sat together and talked about what she wanted to work on. She told me that she enjoyed a book trailer project we had done earlier in the year and wanted to do that. For the rest of the week she spent reading her book and planning a book trailer production. This will be what she will be working on and she is thrilled about it. The best part is when she asked if it would be graded. I told her, “nope”, and she was pumped that she could just do something she wanted to do. When she finishes this, we will meet again and see where the learning takes her next.

My plan is that as students finish mastering their standards, I will ask them and support them in choosing what to do next. I am excited to see what they will come up with when their learning is not only driven by them but also not constricted by the standards.


Julie said...

Wow, Josh, I commend you for your courage to allow students to show their competencies at their own pace and to be open to the idea that a child can 'master' 6th grade ELA long before we ever thought possible. Your post is a powerful example of the reason why we shouldn't pigeon hole children in to courses by age. Imagine what would happen if an entire school ran with the philosophy of your classroom! I am looking forward to going back and reading the posts prior to this.

Thanks for sharing,

Randy Aust said...

That's fantastic, and exactly what learning should look like, Josh. You're doing great and exciting things in your classroom, and it's been really helpful to read about them.

Thank you!

Lisa Nielsen said...

@Josh, such a terrific post! I will add it to my blog post about your work. Doesn't it make you wonder why we believe all students should complete all the subjects at the same time? It makes no sense. I have a good friend who got in trouble because in 10th grade he handed his teacher his completed math book on the first day of school. She was outraged and told him he'd need to learn math with the class!

Kudos to you for doing what every teacher should be doing. By the way, in case you're not aware, this is at the heart of something called "unschooling."

Anthony Purcell said...

Josh, you are doing some great things in your classroom! Great job. I wonder though, what are you going to do with the student(s) who are working on their own projects and start to goof off because their work won't be graded? Do you see this as a possible situation? What are your plans for when this happens?

Again, what you are doing is wonderful. It's great when you can step back and let students take care of their own learning. Students need this and not the lectures that most are giving out there.

EBrabant said...

That's awesome.... I would be interested in seeing her book trailer! Bravo

Josh said...

Thanks for all the comments. First, to Anthony, I find almost no "goofing off" within the class. Are there those students that need more direction from me? Yes, of course there are. However, it has been my experience that the kids who are going to work hard, are going to work hard regardless of grades. If you make learning engaging and fun, kids will do it even if not graded. Grades do not motivate students…period. It may instill fear of consequences, but that is not motivation in my opinion.
Since students have taken the driver’s seat, it has been great. They are increasingly motivated to work because they are calling the shots. I support and guide based on who needs what, but they make the decisions.
As for a final summary, yes I do plan on writing up a final reflection on the three month experience.

Magical Ms. M said...

I have been silently following your progress on this journey of self-directed learning for a couple of weeks. My kiddos are only in 3rd grade, but I am consistently wowed by what they can do. In our classroom the greatest reward is to receive a "challenge."

I thought it was interesting that your "I'm Done" student, when asked what she wanted to do, chose a project that you had taught her about at the beginning of the year.

I have found this also to be true in our classroom. The kids are willing and eager to meet my expectations, but they want new ways of expression.

We just started a list of ways you can "Show What You Know," and they use this list to choose their project. I wish I had started this list at the beginning of the year, and we would have slowly added new things every couple of weeks. (Next year).

I have been calling this "Child-Centered Inquiry with Guidance." It is a work in progress, and I your writings have been great brain food. Keep up the good work.

Here is a bit about what we are doing:

FriedBlueTomatoes said...

These posts have been so inspirational, I can't wait to 'resign' from my own classroom and hand over the reing to the students.

Dvora C said...

Thanks for sharing all this. It is inspiring and reminds me that it can be this way.

learn said...

Thank you for your excellent post. I've added you to our reader and am following you on twitter to see what else you are doing.
Here's a quote that I think fits.
"Teach them how to think, not what to think."

Sean McDougall said...

Hi Josh. I read your post after it was mentioned on Twitter. There are, as I'm sure you know, many wonderful examples of student-directed learning out there. Discovery One (primary) and Unlimited (secondary), both in Christchurch and damaged in the recent earthquake, are towering examples that may inspire you. In the UK I've been involved in a number of similar projects. For primary, you might like Fountaineers - in which 206 children directed their own learning to create a fountain that can see and hear. It won Futurelab's innovation award in 2006. For secondary, try the 360 degree flexible classroom, built while I was running a Design Council campaign called Scools Renaissance. You can find them both in the library section of my website.

Best wishes

Alissa said...

I stumbled on your blog when looking for inspiration on undertaking my own student directed learning projects. Thank you for making me realise that it is possible and that the learning still happens! Your posts have been helpful and inspiring!
Alissa Aust