This week has been a particularly difficult week in which to pick a topic for the blog. Between hurricanes, a local school tragedy, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and dozens of current headlines, I quite frankly almost forgot to write a blog at all and have been at a loss as to what to write. It all seemed trivial or disheartening.
Sometimes it is hard to focus on regular, everyday life when so many Americans face hardship and tragedies. At the heart of education though, I believe teachers try to provide consistency and structure in a chaotic world. While it might not be just business as usual in the classroom, a school is familiar for students. If done right it means a sense of camaraderie, a place to talk and process, and a place to belong. This need for real connections with students is critical and why my high school started the year so strongly focused on building relationships. We began with greeting students at the door and developing a sense of belonging through our “webby groups.” (read more about the Character Strong webby pledge) Fostering an environment that connects individuals, promotes kindness and develops a sense of belonging is one way educators combat divisiveness and uncertainty.
All of this weighed heavy on my mind as I chose my topic for the week. I decided to stay with my original idea of that of engagement in learning and giving students a sense of control over their own education and, by extension, control of a part of their life. In this way I hope to contribute to an educator’s ability to foster a student’s desire to be present and engaged in school.
I began Independent Study Opportunities or ISOs (explained for my students here) at the start of the year to give students choice and ownership. This gives students who need enrichment an opportunity to extend their learning, while also providing those who tend to waste class time, a reason to be on task and finish work. Each ISO has a writing component with a different audience and purpose and all attempt to integrate content matter.
When creating the list of options, I tried to appeal to as many student interests as possible, yet still kept standards central to the learning goal. I even suggested that one student analyze the statistics of the winning Super Bowl quarterbacks for the last twenty-five years and write an argument as to why Tom Brady (Ugh! Go Seahawks!) was the best. Eventually, a Maker Space option will be added to the list. Next semester I also plan to add listening to a guest lecturer at one of the local universities–Gonzaga has a great list of speakers and topics, all open to the public.
20 ISO options briefly explained (only the primary ELA Common Core standard is provided):
- A fictional short story, edited (CCSS W3)
- Create a “How to Succeed in High School” guide (CCSS W6)
- Multiple pamphlets designed for and promoting an activity of your choosing, i.e. FFA (CCSS W6)
- Create A How to Make _______ guide (CCSS W4)
- Design a website that is a study guide for another class (CCSS W6)
- Research a science topic of your choice, create a vlog on your topic (CCSS SL5)
- Spending time coding, write about your experience and reflect on the importance of coding (CCSS W2)
- Write a collection of poetry (CCSS W3)
- Find a problem people face, solve it (Design/Invent/Theorize) (CCSS W7)
- Illustrate a short story or some other reading from class (CCSS RL 5 and 9)
- Design a home using an online computer program of your choice for a character of your choice (CCSS RL 3)
- Write a blog series (CCSS W6)
- Read a book of your choosing and create a study guide (CCSS RL 1-5)
- Read a book of your choosing and test the science of the book (CCSS RI 8)
- Design/Create an app with a function that helps students in one of your classes, explain the process (CCSS W2)
- Research a historical event that interests you, write a historical fiction piece (CCSS W3)
- Research and create a physical fitness guide for a specific audience (kids, elderly, etc.) (CCSS W7)
- Create a photography collection that has a theme, write about the theme and your work (CCSS RL2)
- Read a book of your choosing and create a soundtrack that matches the book’s themes and characters, explain each song’s relevance (CCSS RL2)
- Design an ISO
Students have the opportunity to choose a project as frequently as once a quarter to complete in exchange for swapping out three to five similar assignments. I use standards based grading so the project should align with the standards that each individual needs to improve.
The projects must be completed after regular school assignments are finished or as homework. Daily work must meet a certain standard before they can move on to their ISO because learning is not a checklist of assignments. My general education classes have no assigned homework, but students can, and do, choose to work on ISOs at home.
I look forward to seeing the first set of finished projects because of the commitment students have shown toward their work.
What do you do in your class to encourage choice? In what ways do you offer enrichment?
I enjoy working with teachers to pool our collective ideas and talents.To fill my teaching bucket in this way, I participate in the ESD 101 ELA Fellows, lead a community of practice for Bridge to College and enjoy working with the CorelaborateWa teachers.
I am in my twelfth year teaching; two doors down the hall, my husband is in his second year as an AgEd teacher and FFA adviser . Our two young daughters, 8 and 5, keep us crazy-- I mean busy--as we juggle 4-H, dance, basketball, t-ball and more.
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