The day I told my students not to study…

It has been my goal to foster the idea of a learning community in my classroom. Because it is a stand alone class, my senior elective has become my laboratory for experimenting. Last year I adopted a nimble curriculum that allowed us to move to topics of interest on any given day. We shared two common books, but students researched other topics of their choosing within the broad framework of modern Asia. I gave a “pop exam” the Monday after Thanksgiving, where I asked students questions I thought were essential to the course. They submitted their work at the end of the period, as a test for me and the course. I would be able to tell how much they had internalized without preparation. Then, they had a week to finish and revise before they submitted their answers for a grade.

This year I am taking additional steps to empower the students, and check for learning. My first student presentation was two days ago. I have not seen the class since. When the students arrived at class, I asked them to write on an index card what they learned from the girl’s presentation about the Great Leap Forward in China. There was some outrage when I said they could not look at their notes. One student even asked me the purpose of notes. I pointed out that they did not need notes if those were just to look up information. If taking notes helps with attention, focus, or processing, it is worth taking them. I told them I would not grade this card but rather the collection of notecards once the presentations are done. I also want to give them the chance to go back and talk to the presenter if there is a topic they are not so comfortable with. On the back of the card, they were to write any questions they had after the presentation that we could investigate further.

The notecards were pretty good, for the most part. They had understood the key events and historical dynamics and they had some specific details. I will do the same next class for the presentation that was today. I told them not to study their notes in preparation. I do not want them to study right before class, either. I want to assess what they internalized. I do not think I have ever really actively told students not to prepare for an assessment. Is this a win, either way? Or is this a failure if they actively prepare?

While I am committed to the idea of meaningful learning and shared responsibility for teaching, I am still working this through. I will be challenged again when we discuss the different books the students read on China. They had a choice of three different books. Once we finish research presentations, I will wrap my head around how to discuss multiple books at once.


2 thoughts on “The day I told my students not to study…

  1. I had students read different books too. However, their assignment was the same. I asked them to identify one factual assertion, then figure out a way to determine what evidence was needed to assess whether it was true or not, seek out the evidence, make the determination based on it, then report what they had done and what they concluded. Since all had been doing the same thing with different content, the discussions were engaging and very productive. They learned a lot from each other. So did I.

    • For the Asia course, the content is overlapping with very different approaches. I really love your idea, though. I think it would also work well for the “free reading” we are having our US classes do. They pick a book to read, either from our list or one we approve, and then they read it. We had not quite figured out what we wanted to do after. Thanks for the suggestion.

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