kWL-We’re missing the “W!” What do the students want to know? And, how do they want to “know” it?

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The coolest thing happened today.

Following my 8th grade block of social studies, students left arguing whether or not they should include Mao Zedong as a major person in the “birth of communism, China or Korean War” section of their virtual museum.  Less specifically, students left my class in an argument which reflected not only an interest in the lesson and activity but also a deep understanding of the content.  Isn’t that what we want our students to do?

With my 8th graders, most of whom I have taught for multiple years, I am experimenting with new pedagogical approaches to find the balance between what works best for them as learners and what works best for me as the “teacher.”   

For our Spring-long unit on the Cold War, I have developed a Google Site in which I add resources as we cover the different aspects of the war.  In using the site to house the resources, and their major assessment, I hope to model what I would like from them.  I have asked students to form groups, and to create a “virtual museum” which showcases their knowledge as they gain knowledge through our Cold War unit.  

From there, I left students on their own.

After many questions of “what font should the museum be written in?” and “what is the criteria you will use to evaluate our museums?”, they caught on.  I haven’t given students parameters for creating their museums, nor have I given them a rubric.  (I guess that is now in writing!)  My 8th graders, instead, have created their rubric categories.  They have developed a list of appropriate ways to demonstrate their learning.  They are in control.

While uncomfortable at first, I realized this approach is what they have been screaming out for.  Since shifting my instructional approach to more open lessons, I have witnessed lower instances of disruption, fewer students using the restroom, more students asking insightful questions and deeper learning of the content standards.  

In addition to covering the material stated in the standards, I am able to more easily incorporate ISTE NETS standards and CCSS.  Students love to use technology.  Students love to argue.  Students love to set their own learning goals.  Students love to collaborate and innovate.  Students love to think critically.  Students love to communicate in new ways.  Students love to create.

So, why don’t we let them?