As many faculty are focusing more intently on our syllabi for the fall--after mulling them over all summer--many people are trying to figure out what to have students DO. Should they write term papers? Five-paragraph essays? Compare and contrast pieces? [The answer is NO.]
There are lots of exciting ways students can engage actively with their learning, both to further their understanding and to convey that understanding. (Writing is for thinking, ideally, not just for following a safe recipe.)
The key is to figure out what the ultimate goals are--really going back to fundamentals--and then start from there.
If students are supposed to draw connections between the course material and the rest of the world, then allowing them freedom to explore is appropriate.
If students should master a particular, real genre, not necessarily a "school genre," then having them understand the conventions of that genre is helpful.
If students are supposed to become expert in a spinoff topic, then giving them free rein is appropriate.
If students are to become lifelong writers who have options about how to best convey their message to particular audiences, then having them figure out what's appropriate in diverse moments prepares them to think it through.
If students are supposed to achieve perfection in academic-style writing, following every arbitrary (it seems that way to students, believe me; I've asked) instruction, then it is asking for corner-cutting, imitation, going through the motions, and dread.
There are lots of colleagues all over the place engaging in, well, engaging assignments. Some fall under the general container of "unessay" (here and here).
Here is a list of what my own students have produced, just in the last year:
Nobody could argue that the authors and creators weren't learning, or that they were not putting in effort.
Some of the work was brilliant, inspired, amazing! Some was a first, brave, risky effort at trying a new format, genre. A football player wrote his first poem since middle school. A doula created a series of paintings depicting different food prohibitions during pregnancy, having interviewed people of different ages and from different countries. A student made a mosaic; another made a cartoon of the ways personhood remains the same and changes over the lifespan. Someone created a food-waste brochure. One student wrote a letter to his younger self. I welcomed this experimentation. I learned a lot, and ENJOYED, what my students were doing. They did too.
Learning, writing, doing don't have to be painful drudgery to be worthwhile.
Comment below with your own ideas, if you like!
Living and Learning with Risk: Against Rubrics and Grades. How "Ungrading" Allowed My Students to Try Some New Things
I gave my students freedom to write (present) what they learned however they wanted. They were terrified; how could they get an A without a rubric??--and then they reveled in it. We took risks together, and learned together.
Will Play for Praise
Parents of college students: When you see your kids at Thanksgiving, don’t ask them how they are doing (in terms of grades). Ask them what they’ve learned. Ask what they have enjoyed. Ask what is magical, transformative, even useful.
And students: Don’t play for praise. Don’t learn for me.
Sink in, really be there, and forget about your teachers. Forget about me.
Play, learn, climb the log for yourself.
Gym class is good for you. Vegetables are good for you (and me). It's prudent to know how to avoid credit card fraud. Everyone should know about climate change. We live in a diverse world so we need to learn about cultural diversity. But 1) random disconnected bits of knowledge do not make a person live a meaningful life and 2) when we force students to do something, even when it is good for them, they often try to avoid it or use the minimal energy possible.
The Game of School
Strategies are the main learning outcome of all those years of school. Anyone who flunks strategy basically flunks school.
Learning In and Out of School
The Proceedings of a conference, Learning In and Out of School: Education Across the Globe, held at the University of Notre Dame's Kellogg Institute for International Studies on May 22-23, 2012, are now available!
This is envisioned as a contribution to broadening the scholarly but also the public conversation about the nature of learning and its relationship to the formal institutions we know as schools. In that sense, posting proceedings is a necessary offering.
We—anthropologists, psychologists, human development and education scholars from as far as Korea and Alaska—met for two full days during a gorgeous spring week just following graduation, with flowers and warmth and the peace of an academic year just completed. We ate wonderful food throughout the day and night, and had many informal conversations along with the formal proceedings. As convener, I aimed to implement my best understanding of how people learn and how they interact by structuring the conference with no papers delivered. This is somewhat like “flipping the classroom”: the independent preliminary work that could be done in advance was done in advance—writing and reading papers and preparing comments on others’ work—and the precious face-to-face time was used for what could only be done that way: discussing, asking, brainstorming, and laughing together.
The Empire's Clothes
Just after the 2013 gaokao, Chinese parents in one small city complained, rioted, saying, "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."
There is a drama unfolding even as I write: thirty-five suspects have been indicted in a criminal conspiracy, and only a few of them have surrendered to authorities. They face decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines. The deadline for all to give themselves up is today.
Is this about drugs? Kidnapping? Treason? Securities fraud?
Nothing so alien as that; it is an everyday criminal context: It’s about administrators and teachers changing answers on standardized tests in order to boost their schools’ and districts’ scores