With the madness of back-to-school now fading in the rearview mirror you can now turn your attention fully to the plans you have laid out for the year. You have mapped out all of your standards. You have calendared the projects that will help students master those standards. You made note of the school’s big cultural events. And, of course, you have been sure to mark when benchmark testing and your end-of-year state test will take place. And yet, with all the thoughtful planning I wonder if we have left any room for the individual student.
Despite our best efforts to create more engaging and compelling projects for students, educators often struggle to tap one source of thinking and ideas about what would make for a compelling educational experience – the individual student. Connecting the interests and passions of individual students to the core experience of school has proven difficult for our field. Typically, we relegate student interests to clubs and sports that live in the world of extracurricular activities. This approach is particularly problematic since life or family circumstances keep some students from participating in extracurricular opportunities. Limiting student interests to after-school activities, however unintentionally, creates a reality where some students have an opportunity to see themselves at school where others will not.
Even in the New Tech Network, where there is often more credence given to ideas like student voice, projects are typically designed and driven by teachers. Teachers identify the standards, locate the community connections and resources, draft the rubrics and launch the project. In many promising project-based classrooms much time is spent trying to convince students they ought to be interested in what someone else decided is important. This effectively means that students still have to find extracurricular ways to integrate their interests with their intellectual development at school.
If we really want to foster agency in our schools and classrooms then we have to give our students robust and consequential opportunities to develop it. And, we have to make sure that those opportunities are part of the school experience had by every student. If you accept that charge then you must, with the same care and devotion given to mapping out standards and planning projects, intentionally engineer the moments in your year and the structures in your day where students will have opportunities to play a leading role in the design and pursuit of their own learning.
As a network, our challenge is to transition the conversation around student voice, agency, and ownership of learning from an educational philosophy into a lived reality. Those concepts – agency, student voice, and student ownership – are central to what we believe makes for deep learning. If we really want to honor those ideas and unleash their potential we must make space for the interests, ideas, and passions of the individual student to be part of the core educational experience in our schools.