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Exercising Student Choice Through Guided Independent Inquiry

By Elizabeth Rossini and Maggie Hagen
Exercising Student Choice Through Guided Independent Inquiry

An ISB student recreated one act in a play through a visual arts lens. His flip chart format employed a paper-tearing technique and only two colors to communicate the enduring themes (photos: ISB). ________________________________________________________________________ The research is clear that student choice and motivation are interconnected factors affecting the learning environment that, when combined with intellectual engagement, cause more relevant learning for our students (Guthrie & Davis 2013; Deci & Ryan 2000; Schussler 2009). This research is not new. In our traditional systems of delivery and assessment, however, we often fail to provide these authentic, alternative learning opportunities. In our role as educators, it is important to continue to offer our students choice. Without it, how do we nurture intrinsic motivation and authentic learning experiences? A contemporary approach to educating our students is through personalized learning. Engaging with students to track their progress toward achieving a set of learning goals is a key assessment strategy used by teachers worldwide. However, supporting students as they create those individualized learning goals and a corresponding action plan—which is at the heart of personalized learning—is a more challenging task. Guided indepenent inquiry In an effort to provide more choice, autonomy, and creativity, we developed a framework called Guided Independent Inquiry (GII), which we rolled at at International School Bangkok (ISB) in 2018. This is a student-driven, project-based approach to deepening learning. This framework can be utilized in any classroom, with any demographic in Grades 5–12. Our pilot was conducted in an English 9 classroom of diverse learners. The GII was an optional learning opportunity during the implementation of a ten-week unit on Shakespeare. Students could choose whether to participate in the GII or to remain with the current unit as originally designed. The major elements in the design of this GII framework include student choice, personalized learning goals, and broad support. The premise of our GII was twofold: to provide students with an opportunity to deepen their understanding through independent inquiry and to demonstrate their learning in a creative manner. The twelve students who elected to participate assumed responsibility for their learning as well as autonomy in their approach to meeting their learning goals. The Importance of conversation Facilitating a classroom dynamic in which some students are engaged in independent research while others are immersed in standard instruction can be a challenge. We wondered how we would balance attention to personalized projects with the needs of the rest of the class. After completing many iterations of this project, we feel that the initial conversation regarding individual proposals is essential. We sat down with each participating student to listen to their ideas and ask questions. Through conversation, we helped students deepen their research proposals and ensure the feasibility of their project. The GII framework is more than an alternative assessment approach, as students choose to opt out of the daily lessons to independently pursue their self-defined learning goals. Personalized learning relies heavily on self-regulation (McLoughlin & Lee, 2010), as does the GII. To support students for whom self-regulation is still developing, we provided various scaffolds to make the process more manageable. Demonstrations of learning Educators can often experience a moment of trepidation before students present at the end of a project such as this one. Perhaps it is this discomfort when relinquishing control to foster student autonomy that often causes us to continually resort to traditional means of assessment in our classrooms. However, within the pilot, projects demonstrated irrefutable evidence that when given choice, a meaningful challenge, and a degree of autonomy, students are motivated to excel beyond the confines of conventional assessment. One student considered the concept of “star-crossed lovers” by researching various sex pheromones to create an experiment exemplifying the chemical reactions of lust vs. love. Another created an original score for Act IV, with different instruments representing Juliet, Friar Lawrence, Capulet, and Lady Capulet. There were photo essays exploring the themes of the play, a short film, a comparison with hip-hop, and a short story exploring Shakespearan themes through America’s pastime. When designing this framework, decisions about assessment and grading were integral. Dylan Wiliam (2013) posits that a critical element of effective feedback lies in building students’ capacity for self-assessment. We chose not to grade the creative products but instead evaluated our students’ ability to show how their GII provided evidence of their learning. As such, we provided anecdotal feedback on their creative projects but only graded the accompanying rationale they provided. Students who participated in the GII framework loved the autonomy it offered. The experience of managing a schedule, planning independently, and seeking and responding to feedback was invaluable. This framework exists as a manageable way to support personalized learning and shows us that choice is essential and what we assess matters. Through the use of creative learning frameworks such as the GII, all students have the capacity to develop the skills to become self-managing, adaptable, innovative contributors in our society. Elizabeth Rossini is Director of Curriculum and Professional Learning at the International School Bangkok. Maggie Hagen is High School English and IB Teacher at the International School Bangkok. References: Guthrie, J. T., & Davis, M. H. (2003). Motivating struggling readers in middle school through an engagement model of classroom practice. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 19(1), 59–85. McLoughlin, C., & Lee, M. J. (2010). Personalised and self regulated learning in the Web 2.0 era: International exemplars of innovative pedagogy using social software. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26, 28–43. Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25(1), 54-67. Schussler, D. L. (2009). Beyond content: How teachers manage classrooms to facilitate intellectual engagement for disengaged students. Theory Into Practice, 48, 114–121. Wiliam, Dylan (2016). The Secret of Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership, 73(7), 10-15.

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10/21/2018 - Brian
Would *love* some more information about how you structured the GII and how you evaluated the students!



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