When Student Choice Leads to Student Voice

This post is written by Trey House, a Middle School Latin teacher, The Ensworth School.

A key theme of ambitious teaching and learning is creating opportunities for students to demonstrate learning on their own terms. At the middle school level, it is important to help students develop the means to use their own voices. One way to do this is to give students the power to choose how to present class content. There are three main benefits to letting go of the reins and allowing students to take control of the end product:

  1. Student Engagement Increases
  2. Student Creativity Increases
  3. Student Feedback and Progress Becomes the Goal, Rather Than a Number

Age appropriate guidelines, resources, and time must be provided to reach these targets.  Recently, 6th grade Latin students engaged in a project built around the idea of student choice. Students were tasked with researching a Roman god or goddess, forming a group, writing a script, and crafting a video presentation on their chosen god or goddess. 

The goals of this project are to empower students to: 

  1. Construct knowledge
  2. Design a delivery system for that knowledge
  3. Communicate that knowledge effectively to an audience of peers

What I love most about this project is the freedom given to students. From the god or goddess that interests them, to their group, to the medium they use for their video, students are the authors of each decision. I have just three guidelines for their videos: 

  1. Educate
  2. Have a Clear Script
  3. Be Understood

Otherwise, students are on their own to show what they know and present that knowledge to their peers. We spent 3 full class periods introducing and creating the project, then another full period watching videos, providing feedback, and reflecting on that feedback. In order to create an environment for students to focus on their work, I laid out 4 steps.

First, I use Padlet as a free resource board with grade level appropriate links on Roman mythology. Students are given time in class to use the links to learn more about Roman mythology. This forms the basis of the content they will share with their audience. 

Next, students form groups of two or three and agree on a mythological topic for their video. They can focus on one god or goddess, explaining who they are, or they can tell a story about the gods. Whatever they choose, they must create a storyboard/script/outline of the story they want to tell. They must spend time brainstorming and visualizing the work they will do before getting to the task. 

After they have had their script approved by the instructor, students then get to choose from a variety of creation tools on their iPads and laptops. Students this year used ToonTastic, Clips, Animatic, and ChatterKids available on the classroom set of iPads. They also used more “old-fashioned” (iMovie trailers on their laptops and the iPad camera) means to create their videos.  

Lastly, students must upload their videos to a single location, in our case, Google Classroom, so we can watch them as a class (LOUD House   Savage, Not Average    #1 Latin Class)

This last step is the reason for the entire project in my mind. The best learning comes from reflection. When we view the work of each group, the other students in class will be providing feedback via a simple rubric. Groups will see the feedback provided by their classmates and reflect on how they could improve their videos for the next time. 

This process allows students to understand how the choices they made (good or bad) impacted the final product and the way their classmates perceive their work. It also forces the viewers to think about what they saw and articulate how they felt about the product. While watching videos before even having a chance to reflect on feedback, several students were already making self-aware comments that recognized what they could have done differently to improve their own work.  

The ultimate goal of student choice projects is to provide experiences for learners that allow them to reflect and grow. They are allowed the autonomy to make decisions and with feedback, they are expected to apply lessons to their next project. Whether in Latin, History, Science, or English class, students will be delivering presentations throughout 6th grade. I am very much excited to help start their growth journey towards becoming empowered communicators of their learning.

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are, it is our choices.” 

-Albus Dumbledore

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