Learning to Remember

If you think back on your educational experiences, chances are there are moments that you remember with vivid clarity.  Some of these moments you might remember because of how they turned you off as a student and disengaged you from the learning process.  However, hopefully most of the moments you remember are because of how they inspired you.  In these moments everything "clicked,” you just got it, and suddenly the purpose of the learning felt real and relevant.  As educators, these are the moments and the learning we want for each student entrusted to our care.  If this is our goal, then a reflective exercise in the shared characteristics of these moments is a valuable use of our time.  


Research tells us that lasting learning, is personalized and relevant to the student.  In reflecting back on those learning moments that continue to resonate with you as an educator, did that learning allow you to create a personal connection with the content?  The challenge for educators is to create these personal connections with our content for each and every one of the students in our classroom.  After all, we teach students not subjects.  The task can seem daunting and with all of the expectations placed upon educators, working smarter, not harder is important to maintaining our "classroom health.”  Creating opportunities for students to express choice and voice can positively contribute to more of these personal moments for all students.  


So what exactly is student choice and voice?  Furthermore, how can we effectively create a classroom environment where this occurs?  Student choice and voice is largely about inviting students to collaborate with the teacher in designing meaningful learning experiences.  It is about creating a learning environment where students decide how to express their knowledge and understanding of a learning objective in a way that engages and is personal to them.  Finally, student choice and voice can be terrifying for an educator!  Shifting some control in your classroom to students to design, express, explore, and explain can be a frightening prospect.  It means that topics and challenges might arise, that are difficult to plan for.  However, it also means that the opportunity for novel products and learning, for engaged classes, and for truly remarkable experiences for all are possible outcomes with careful planning, clear expectations, and a willingness to try something new.  


Sharing stories from educators involved in this work is a powerful catalyst to try this approach in our classrooms.  The first time I was truly aware that I was handing over the learning to my students came when I was teaching a sophomore level Biology class.  I was working to make the cell cycle relevant and decided to approach the topic from the perspective of something that will touch every human's life, cancer.  I tasked the students with two objectives.  In groups of 3-4, they each tackled the biology of the disease and interviewed someone who was impacted by the disease (doctor, patient, family member).  Students had a rubric in hand and a clear understanding of the expectations.  How they divided the work, the topics they researched, and the interviews they conducted were determined by the group.  My role changed from provider of knowledge to facilitator of exploration and meaning making. For the second task, students were given one simple direction and two limitations; create a video to convince someone to care about cancer in under 3 minutes.  I held my breath and was amazed as the students took ownership of their own learning, made personal connections, and learned so much more than the cell cycle. Six years later, that first class still talks about that particular assignment when they see me.  Their voices shaped our class, our learning, and our perspectives.


The following article from Edutopia discusses another's perspective on this powerful learning strategy.  Student Choice and Voice by Joshua Block (October 30, 2014)


Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2015, 3:42 PM