As educators, our classrooms are usually teacher-driven. Students are expected to follow the rules and the procedures which have been established by the teacher as a means of managing the classroom and the students efficiently and effectively. Classes are taught in blocks of time, and a schedule dictates when students do what. Lessons are based on a common set of standards, students are given their assignments, and grades are allocated based on whether instructions were followed as well as the quality of the work. Many of us thrived in this system; we knew what we had to do to be successful in school.
Our 21st century world is vastly different, and what worked back then may not be what our students need to be successful today. We read about how we need to teach the 3 R's as well as the 4 C's - collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity - which describe the processes for teaching and learning as we move our teachers and our students forward in the 21st century. Our Blended Learning pilot program where fourth and fifth grade students spend part of the week in face-to-face learning and the other half accessing their curriculum and assignments on-line at home is successfully demonstrating the power of the
4 C's in engaging students in their studies.
But that is not enough. We found that even though we have a rigorous curriculum and students have multiple opportunities to use technology and Web 2.0 tools to demonstrate their learning through the 4 C's, something else needs to be in place if we want our students to internalize and become self-directed learners, responsible for their own learning. The 5th C is "Choice." (Thank you, Michelle Colte, for coining this phrase). We have seen students in the Blended Learning Class develop the attributes of a self-directed learner. They are able to view their assignments for the day, prioritize how they will accomplish their tasks, and with guidance from the teachers, work on individual projects of their choice.
What is it about choice that can make the difference for students? Kevin Perks, in "Crafting Effective Choices to Motivate Students" states, "Choices that promote feelings of control, purpose, and competence are likely to be more motivating than choices that do not." In our Blended Learning classes, students have choices, although not all of them are "desirable" to every student. However, when students can choose how to prioritize and complete their assignments for the day, they learn organizational and time management skills. When they can choose a topic as part of their interdisciplinary unit study, they are motivated to research to find more information to answer their questions. When students have a choice on how to share their learning with others, their creativity and pride shines through their projects.
All teachers can and should provide choices for students -- choices in content (What will I be learning? Why is this important? What are the big ideas and essential questions? What are the standards?), process (What resources will I use? How do I go about finding information? Will I learn better alone or in a group?), or products (How will I share what I learned? How do I know I have produced my best work?) By providing opportunities to demonstrate the 3 R's and the 5 C's, students will gain skills and strategies to be confident, competent, self-directed learners. That's what I hope for all of our students so they be successful, not just in school, but in life.