[Cross-posted on Edutopia]

Traditionally, schools have not promoted human-centered relationships. With the exception of the primary years, students are expected to rush from class to class, searching for meaning in short periods of time allotted with each of their teachers. In this model, each course is meant to pack in as much content as possible while pausing only for exams which are supposed to determine how much a student “knows.”

In the real world, meaning comes from relationships, from feelings of belonging, and from work that allows for exploration, self-expression, and self-examination. No one looking back on his or her school experience remembers a particularly poignant test. Instead, people remember the teacher who reached out to them at a vulnerable moment, the unit that changed the way they understand an issue, or the project that seemed impossible at first but then became something far beyond everyone’s expectations.

Teaching and learning are incredibly complex and impossible to script. What we can do is commit ourselves to practices and structures that value our students as people with real human needs. By working to meet these needs and working to make schools more people-centered, we help transform potential experiences of alienation and disconnection into joyful examples of supportive community where young people can explore, take risks, and discover themselves.

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[Cross-posted on Edutopia]

The way I understood school learning shifted the first time I was given an opportunity to design a project of my own. This high school senior project, an environmental audit of my school district, became my passion. I stayed awake at night researching, met with different experts, and ultimately presented a proposal for reform to our school board. For the first time in my life, school had not been about finding ways to meet requirements established by others — it was about work that I believed in.

Why Choice?

Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters. Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms.

There are times when students are able to pursue their passions and independently create projects, and other times when students can be given choice in smaller, yet meaningful, ways. The parameters of choice vary depending on the cycles of the school year, the specific students, the project, and many other factors. Regardless of the scenario, maintaining a focus on student choice helps to create learning environments of meaning where student voices matter.

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Writing is Thinking

October 25, 2014

The other day I played my class a five minute radio piece about young people becoming first time activists in the aftermath of the tragedy in Ferguson. I was excited to share this reporting with my students because of the multiple voices with larger messages about democracy and active citizenship, two topics that are core to our American Government course.

Contrary to my normal approach, something made me think it would be fine not to have students record any quotes and not write any reflection. My plan was to have a discussion after hearing the piece and then switch gears and give students time to work on their projects.

Boy, did I blow it.

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Teaching at a public school in Philadelphia it feels crucial to design curriculum that allows students to deeply understand, and speak out about, changes that are happening in the School District of Philadelphia. This year my American Government classes began the year with an inquiry into the concept of democracy. This lead to an investigation of the relationship between democracy and education, with a focus on Philadelphia and the manufactured crisis facing our schools.

After two weeks of class research and investigation students created digital stories. (More details on the unit and the assignment can be found here.) The results are insightful, varied, and often poignant. The projects can be seen by clicking on the image below.

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