The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Jill’s class is currently celebrating a reading unit of study where they learned how to grow personal knowledge about a topic.  One intention Jill had going into the unit was to share control of the learning with her students. Another intention was to create experiences where her students could work with more independence.There were a few little tweaks to traditional practices that made this possible:

  • Instead of assigning, or limiting choices for topics, allow students free choice. Let them decide what they will study. 
  • Instead of controlling every aspect of the unit, allow students  to take ownership of their work throughout the unit.  
  • Instead of being fixed with potential products for the unit, allow creativity to bloom and take full advantage of the high levels of students’ motivation.  

Jill decided to embrace the plethora of opportunities that choice, ownership, and flexibility affords. All of which, made students’ learning more meaningful, relevant, and fun.  Here is a description of how we did it.

Getting Setup to Learn: We let students tour the library and gather books on a topic they’re interested in. They made their own text set. The work focused on finding  support for the books they chose that are outside their instructional band. If you try this, you may make recommendations of books to include in the text sets afterwards, “Look what I found, would this go with your topic? I was thinking about you when I saw this book.” 

Intentional Reading: Then it was time to read and explore the books. Students were able to make decisions as to what books remained in their text sets or what books were removed.  

Collaborative Work: Children invited other students to share their text sets. Some text sets started to be merged, or expanded to include each others. So for example Aine was reading books about pandas, and her friend Olivia was reading books about mammals. They decided to work together on a piece about animal babies. Chris was reading about sharks, and La’Nyah was reading about sea creatures and then they decided to work collaboratively. 

Creating an Action Plan: Culminated into museum pieces. They are getting ready to teach visitors about their topics. There is an option to work independently or collaboratively with a partner. They firm up their text sets combining and discarding texts to make their text sets reflect their topics they’re going to teach about. 

Planning for Transfer: Now they mark up their text sets to pull the information that they plan on teaching. Then they have a choice as to how they will share: a speech, a poster, book, sign, did they want to act it out, do a dance, create a physical model or structure, or if they thought of something different that’s ok too. This is the time of year when teachers will tell you, “Students’ energy is off the charts!” We certainly agree!  Many students are very excited to spend this special time with their families and friends.The result is that many children are often restless and unfocused. However, this is not the case this week in Jill’s class. Children are engaged, and intentional because they are happy in their work.  Meaningful work, is a very gratifying thing for us all. 

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