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Student-Designed Curriculum: Helping Students Create Their Own Lesson Plans
By Monica Fuglei
When I was asked what my most important lesson learned as a teacher was, my reply focused on the idea of student engagement and ownership. No matter how well-prepared a teacher might be, I firmly believe that if a student is not engaged and does not take ownership of their education, they will not succeed.
While this might seem a bit fatalistic for a teacher to say, it hones in on one really important factor for educators: We must do what we can to make students care about what we’re teaching them.
Student-designed lesson plans: The Monument Regional High School pilot program
One great way to do that is to have students design their own lesson plans. In an age of frequent assessment and Common Core State Standards, the idea of handing off curriculum design to students might seem reckless. However, when students are active in the development of their learning, the process can become not only interesting, but inspirational.
In one pilot program at Monument Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a small group of students were given the opportunity to completely design one year of self-directed, peer-supported learning. The program was very successful and has been extended in the school.
Teachers outside the pilot program but within the school itself have adopted some of the self-direction seen in the program to allow students freedom of choice in developing and designing their own curricula. As a result of this spin on traditional education, students inside and outside of the pilot program report having a greater investment and sense of ownership in their education, which will hopefully stretch throughout their learning careers.
Strategies for helping students create their own lesson plans
Not every school, teacher, or student group possesses the desire or discipline to engage in fully self-directed learning. But embracing some student-designed lesson plans can really enhance investment in the education process, and more clearly communicate student needs and desires to their teachers and administrators. Here are some easy ways to include student design in lesson planning.
Have students choose their reading, topic or genre
In a literature classroom, allowing students to self-select their reading assignments individually, as a whole class, or in smaller reading groups, can really increase student investment in the literature and yield much more effective classroom discussions. When writing, students who are encouraged to choose their own research, writing topic, or even genre are more invested in the overall process. Adopting the peer community aspects of the Monument High School Program can encourage these students to work together in self-directed groups and help them develop essential skills like editing, reviewing and self discipline.
Engage students in meta-analysis with real life texts
One challenging aspect of literacy education means encouraging students to participate in meta-analysis of texts or websites. Having students bring a text to class or select, based on their interest, from a broad range of texts you provide gives them a chance to look at and analyze something they connect with, increasing the likelihood that they will find the practice engaging and transfer the skill to real-life situations.
Have students participate in rubric development
Often, as a first step in a unit, I will encourage my students to aid me in the development of our grading rubric or unit assessment. We examine a variety of rubrics or expectations and discuss the importance of each entry on the rubric, assigning points to each section as a class and drawing clear expectations for the assignment. Students engaged in this process have a deep understanding of the rubric/assessment and are thus highly likely to know what they need to learn during the unit. They are also not afraid to ask for clarification during the design process, making their knowledge of my expectations as an instructor even deeper.
Self-assessment and reflection techniques
The process of self-assessment and reflection on learning helps students identify personal strengths and weaknesses as well as set goals for future learning. If students are allowed the freedom of curriculum design, engaging them in self-assessment and reflection, particularly upon the core standards or benchmarks required by their school, district, or state standards, is an essential piece of the process that allows them to examine their level of mastery and set future goals for learning.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.
Melissa Monti, No-Hands Teaching: Student-Created Lessons Based on Authentic Material, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Luba Vangelova, This is What a Student-Designed School Looks Like, KQED MindShift