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When Students Design the Assessment, Everyone Wins

Sometimes we throw ideas into the wind in our classroom and hope for the best. Even when we are intentional there are times that we just don't know what will happen when we pass the baton to the kids.

But this is a risk we must take because keeping control for ourselves, grossly limits the students' learning experiences, and for what? Our own comfort and ease of instruction?

Students must be put into a position of control over their own learning if we truly hope to make them life-long learners who are intrinsically motivated. By giving them opportunities to get involved in the design process, we allow them to show themselves that they are in fact capable of this task without our help.

This past week, I experimented with letting students rewrite the shape of the Shakespeare unit and the students didn't disappoint. There were several ideas worth considering, but the one the class voted on, even replaced the one assignment that I was most confident about on my own.

Although a little uncomfortable about the idea of just throwing out what I know has worked in the past, I took my own advice and said yes to their idea and let go of my own.

Traditionally, I've broken the play into pieces and we've done different activities with different acts, making sure to really dig deeply into all, getting a nuanced and robust experience with

Shakespeare. However, this particular class isn't like classes I've had in the past, and therefore things needed to change.

Earlier, I wrote about the plan I had to put the planning of the assessment into the students' hands and I was impressed by how seriously they took the task. Now, I'll be working with the group of students who came up with the elected idea to design an assessment that will chart the rest of the play.

As we sit down together, they will flesh out the directions they feel need to be constructed, and together we will select the standards the assessment addresses. Thinking about the end result first, we will plan backward to really break down and benchmark the assignment sheet so that all students will be responsible for something unique. This will also help us determine the success criteria.

The premise is that each group of three will be given a character from the play (we're sticking with 11 of the main characters) and they will need to psychoanalyze that character. Using the text from the play, they will determine actions and motivations and then do research to develop a diagnosis and possible treatments. After the foundational work is complete, they will combine the skills of what the other project was by making a screencast or video of therapy sessions that unravel the experience for the watcher spanning the length of the play.

At the end of the production of the work, we will have a gallery walk to display, learn and celebrate the learning and the students will reflect on what they took away from the assignment. This will be the true moment of truth about whether or not the experiment was a success. More will be revealed at that time.

This assignment is definitely more complicated than the ones I originally had planned and also will give students an opportunity to explore ideas outside of the curriculum that may spark interest for their final research papers.

It's a win-win because the kids seem excited by the opportunity to design a project and take a chance with a student-directed choice and I get to read and learn more about the kids than I would have with the original assignments and lets face it, different is sometimes more exciting for everyone.

The more risks we take in the classroom that allow students to be in control, the better. At every age and at every level, children are capable of making good choices, but we do have to give them opportunities to practice while we watch actively to ensure they are all getting what they need.

In what ways can you empower students today to ensure that each of them gets an opportunity to take a meaningful risk? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in February of 2016.


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