Friday, October 29, 2010

Teacher as Learner

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I have already written a post with this title.  If so, I may consider adding "Again."  In the beginning of ERIC, the 7th grade ancient civilizations project (Egypt, Rome, India, China) students have blogged three topic choices to me (Family Life, Religion, History, etc.) and I have then assigned topics.  This year I decided that group leaders, students elected by their peers, should have a hand in topic assignments.  The methods the groups came up with were fascinating.  One group blogged their choices, but the leaders asked me to email my topic assignments to them for final approval (fortunately for me, they approved my suggestions!)  One group passed out slips of paper in class, had everybody write their choices on them, then asked me to assign topics, again pending their approval.  The last two groups took a different tack.  Their group recorders, also an elected position walked around to every student, asked what they wanted and wrote it down.  If a topic had been taken by a previous student, students simply self-selected another topic.  There was no arguing, nobody wanted to switch at the end.

The empowerment the group leaders and the classes felt was palpable.  Students clearly could not believe a teacher was letting them choose what area they wanted to study.  Two classes didn't want me involved in the process at all.  Did I mind?  Nope, not at all.  Allowing kids to choose what they will study is a huge part of my project-based curriculum.  Was it easy to let go and not try to "engineer" who studied which topic?  It was surprisingly easy.  Next week we will begin research, students have their topics, and I have learned an important lesson about teaching leadership.  Weiden + Kennedy, the Portland advertising agency were right, "Just do it!"

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