How do students become participants on determining what they should know? Ideas? Experiences?
Thank you for posing such a vital question. Within the inquiry-based learning framework, we are taught to backwards plan by beginning with the end in mind. Just as this planning process makes us more powerful educators, it also holds merit in creating a powerful student-centered learning environment. Students can also learn to begin with the end in mind. In this way, students’ inquiries can become more focused and purposeful. We can begin to address the question of “how” by examining the PBL design process.
There is a continuum of practice in balancing teacher direction and student autonomy in PBL design. There are projects designed with limited student input in which the teacher selects the topic and the learning outcomes, defines the products and activities and controls the timeline and pace of the project. As a teacher moves along the design continuum they may begin to solicit student input and negotiate learning outcomes. On far end of the continuum, we would observe students selecting topics, defining their own learning outcomes, products and activities, and determining the pace and timeline of the project. (The Buck PBL Handbook discusses student autonomy in project design. If you have a handbook I would recommend consulting pages 15-16.) In fact, students can become highly proficient in consulting published state standards as they develop their learning outcomes. I have seen this occur as early as fourth grade.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of observing an eager group of fourth grade students from Charles Wright Academy in Washington State. Their teacher had taken the initiative to rewrite GLEs (grade-level expectations) in “kid-friendly” language. Students in his class selected standards they found interesting, identified how they could demonstrate their competency in terms of the standard, designed rubrics to assess a range of competencies in terms of the standard, created a plan of action for developing their competency and then executed. He supported students by consulting with them on their process. He also developed basic templates for rubrics using language like beginner, practitioner and expert. Some of his students created columns for proficiency beyond expert, like “superwhiz.” There are other examples of students participating on determining what they should know through the creation of their own rubrics for assessment.
A US History teacher at Clover Park High School spends time with students to collaboratively create rubrics for her classes. If you are interested in seeing this in action, I would suggest visiting the Small Schools Project video library for “Promise and Personalization” video. Here is a link: http://www.smallschoolsproject.org/index.asp?siteloc=teaching§ion=pp-pap
Several of my colleagues within our learning community have created grids and tables of standards. Each student keeps one in their notebook. There are regular check-in points in which students are assessed on these standards. Students begin to see the standards in which they are showing growth and the standards in which they are persistently deficient. They can then design their own “mini-projects” to promote growth in the applicable standards. This is similar to the fourth grade class, but in this case it is more targeted in ameliorating areas of challenge.
I hope you are able to find these ideas and examples useful. As in Andrew Miller’s post, they demonstrate ways by which you can involve students in the selection of learning targets as well as the development of assessments of proficiency in terms of identified standards.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize that even within the most “teacher-directed” PBL there are a myriad of ways to promote student buy-in and participation through voice and choice. For example, a teacher can create a menu of product choices give students multiple options to demonstrate the same competencies. We can also ask students to create a preliminary pitch to secure their choice in specific aspects of a project. Another strategy is to use a tuning protocol with students before launching a project in order to solicit student input on project design before launching.
Best wishes to you,