Trials in Student Engagement, Part 2: Choice

Yesterday I wrote about trying to get students to become active in their learning. What pushed me to an urgent level on this front was the class’s reaction to an independent study project I’d presented to them on Monday morning.

Sensing that the content of our curriculum was not in natural interest areas, last weekend I’d planned a project for them in which they could choose the topic of study.

The project has the following criteria:

  • A brief written research paper (no more than two pages, double-spaced) completed using the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing).
  • An original piece of artwork that has your topic as its subject. You may choose the medium (painting, drawing, sculpture, original song, etc.).
  • A presentation to the class lasting 2-5 minutes that includes an audio/visual element or performance (song, skit)

When I presented this opportunity to them, their response was not much different than if I had given them a worksheet packet of grammar and reading skill practice. There wasn’t the bump in enthusiasm I’d expected.

This experience led me to the Friday morning conversation outlined in my previous post. There’s clearly more work to do in getting the kids to see themselves as active learners and owners of their learning. Higher order questioning and attempts to engage them in the work have had limited success. My thinking now is that I have to show some patience and let them see that they really will be able to lead their learning and have some say in how they develop their skills and knowledge.

So, I’ve gone ahead and approved just about every topic they’ve presented for their projects. There will be projects on ┬áprofessional wrestlers and the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Pretty sure there are no content standards that encompass these topics, but there will be student work in asking key questions for research, identifying sources, note taking, completing the writing process, and delivering a presentation in front of the class. If that means stepping back and learning more about the WWE, then so be it.

The assignment organizer, based on the Big 6, can be seen here.