And What if We let Students Design the Learning Objectives and the Assessments?

Photo by wonderfully complex from Flickr

Photo by wonderfully complex from Flickr

I am constantly searching for ways to continue to push my students to the center of their learning experience and leave myself more as a facilitator. As I was reflecting on an upcoming unit on numbers greater than 60 in Spanish and French, I thought to myself, why am I deciding what the students should do? What don’t I ask them? So in class the next week I gave the students the title of the unit and the following questions to brainstorm on in small groups:

1.    How do you use numbers in your life?
2.    How do you want be able to use numbers in Spanish?

Involving students in the process of deciding on objectives resulted in them using their critical thinking skills to understand how they interact with the world using numbers. They had to collaborate and decide as a group which objectives were most important to them and it gave them ownership of their learning. For the unit on numbers, my 7th grade Spanish language students established these learning objectives (After class I modified the language somewhat by adding in the words that are underlined. In most cases I removed the word “use”):

1.     We will be able to interpret graphs that refer to populations of Spanish speaking countries (turns out they are doing graph      work in geography class and so that created their own cross-curricular objective)
2.     We will to be able to ask for and give birthdays, including the year.
3.     We will be able to identify and recognize prices of items like clothes, cars, and houses.
4.     We will be able to formulate math problems and recognize aural math problems.
5.     We will be able to interpret timelines.

Once we had come to a consensus of their learning objectives for that unit we brainstormed again on how we would assess if the objectives had been met. So the students designed their assessment before the unit even began. Here is what they wanted to see on their assessment:

1.     A speaking check just to say numbers out of context (we do these one on one while students are doing work in class)
2.     A listening activity for example a commercial with prices or something with countries and populations.
3.     A listening section on math problems.
4.     Writing section birthdays
5.     A reading section with a timeline to fill in.

I explained to the students that with the information they had given me that I would use my knowledge of language learning and teaching to design appropriate lessons and activities to help them meet their objectives.

It goes without saying that throughout the brainstorming process I didn’t sit on the sideline and wait while the students did their brainstorm. I circulated throughout the room and asked questions to guide them and help them formalize their ideas. Though I was involved in the process, I was a participant and not the director. I am confident that as we repeat this process that the students will surpass my expectations and that I will become better at helping them verbalize what they want to do with their Spanish language skills. They already surprised me this time and I know that they enjoyed the process and were welcomed the opportunity to design their own learning. Before we get to the assessment, I will allow the students to brainstorm again and confirm that they are satisfied with the assessment activities.

Will they learn Spanish more efficiently this way? Maybe. But for sure, when letting the students design their learning consistently, the outcomes will include, though not be limited to:

• More risk-taking
• Creativity
• Heightened awareness of knowledge
• Heightened awareness of the learning process
• Ownership
• Increased Motivation
• Increased opportunities for collaboration
• More opportunities to refine communication skills

So, what if we let students….

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