In both English 11 and English 12, students have the opportunity to design their own learning activities, pacing, formative assessments, and instruction. While the learning objectives and summative assessments are non-negotiable and designed by the English Department and approved by the Office of Learning, the class is designed in such a way to maximize all other learning opportunities that lead up to the unit’s summative assessments.
Students develop a formal proposal for the learning activities and formative assessments they think will best help them prepare for meeting the learning objectives. Students also determine how they will learn, be it through traditional lectures, videos, reciprocal teaching, note-taking, practice, creative projects, and much more. Students also develop a calendar that aids in their learning management and daily reflections on their learning. Their formative assessments are a negotiation with the teacher and become more useful as students are designing their own check-ins along the way. Instead of being afraid of grades, students work side-by-side with the teacher to get feedback on practice assessments. Furthermore, throughout the unit of study, the teacher finds opportunities to work individually with each student and provide more one-on-one instruction to target individual growth.
Even though there is significant freedom in the course, there are mini-lessons and personalized grammar training in every class. As a result, there’s a combination of student autonomy with teacher oversight and guidance.
This isn’t the easy path. It takes patience. Not every student is fully prepared to take such an initiative over the learning. Some need significant support and guidance. It can be much easier for the teacher to just talk at the students and then test them; but this traditional model isn’t the most effective way we learn. In fact, for decades, we’ve probably learned in spite of this flawed approach.
As a result of this now-personalized approach, academic skills, critical thinking, learning to learn, general maturation, and time management are on a fast-track of growth. It’s a greater focus on process than product. It’s a greater focus on learning than mere grades. It’s a greater focus on the student’s best interests than making things appear to be perfect. It’s a greater focus on what actually elicits learning as opposed to repeating the antiquated, outdated methods.
Joshua Smalley is a High School teacher at ICS whose life's work is to show people the beauty in the world around them and experience it with them.