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Hearing voice through choice – Creating choice in student learning Allowing choice gives students the opportunity to develop skills beyond those that can be taught from a text book or gained from delivering a standard curriculum


hen I think about the changes in education, I think of the old proverb ‘a child should be seen and not heard’. Traditionally, children were trained to be quiet, passive members of society. Their schooling consisted of rote learning, the 3Rs and predominantly being passive recipients of knowledge. Life in schools has evolved and thankfully taken a significant shift away from this. In fact, nowadays it is quite the opposite. With a focus on student led inquiry and project based learning in our classrooms, students are not only active in their learning, but are also encouraged to have a voice e-Technology May 2016 (4) – researched and prepared for ACEL by Fiona Stafford, Year 6 classroom teacher, Geelong College, Victoria.

and be heard. Gone are the days where the teacher mapped out the learning for students. Students in this day and age are faced with more and more opportunities to steer their own learning and choose what they want to learn, how they are going to learn it and how they are going to present it. Creating opportunities for students to have choice in their learning is so much more than just allowing our children to be seen AND heard. It also provides opportunities for students to develop their independence, self-control, sense of purpose, competence and most importantly, learn about themselves as a learner. It also taps into their personal interests and preferred ways of interacting

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Questions to consider when allowing choice in learning: Whom will students work with? What content will students work with? How much structure do I give? How will I keep track of what they are achieving? How do I assess them? How much choice is too much choice? How can I support my students? What is my role in the classroom? How do I communicate the value in this to parents?

Our focus at school is to communicate ideas in creative ways and we incorporate the use of technology into our learning as much as possible.

with learning materials. This is why the notion of including student choice in learning is gaining momentum. Allowing choice gives students the opportunity to develop skills beyond those that can be taught from a text book or gained from delivering a standard curriculum. Including more options for student choice in your school can be as simple as changing the way teachers look at the seating structure in their classroom, the way furniture is arranged or the way they decide what students are to do for homework. But, there are many ways to allow for an even more individual and personalised learning journey for the students in your school. In this article, I am going to share some of the ways that I create choice for the students in my classroom. Our focus at school is to communicate ideas in creative ways and we incorporate the use of technology into our learning as much as possible. These are some of the ways that we encourage our Year 6 students to have more choice in their learning: 1 Incorporate the use of technology 2 Project Based Learning and Design Thinking 3 Tapping into passions and personal experiences 4 Utilising teachers as content ‘Gurus’ 5 Structure of the learning spaces Technology Technology instantly engages students and promotes opportunities for individuality in the classroom. Our focus for using technology as a learning tool is always to communicate a clear message to an audience through the art of storytelling. This allows for creativity and uniqueness in the products the students make. At school, the students have a large range of technological equipment to select from including a green screen studio, podcasters, video cameras, point and shoot cameras, various microphones for recording audio, sound recording booths and a drone … yes we are lucky to have such a range and not all schools are as fortunate with their variety. But it is not about what you have, but how you use it. Technology is like a hammer, a drill, a welder or any other tool; in order to get the best outcome, you have to know how to use it meaningfully. Students are regularly allowed choice in how they would like

to present their learning using these different forms of technology. And the answer is always yes. If a child wants to bring along another type of technology from home to use to support their learning at school, we say yes and try to embrace all interests and preferred technological tools. These are some of the ways that students have chosen to use technology to show their learning at school: Films Utilising their knowledge of film production and moving imagery to create instructional films to instruct their audience with a process of how to do something; like how to do a lay-up in basketball, how to prepare your horse for show-jumping or how to bake a cake. Other genres of film with moving imagery that students explore in their learning are reports, persuasive and promotional films. Stop motions This type of film consists of taking a range of photographs to tell a story through still imagery. Students often utilise this style of film when conveying messages related to mathematical content. Students have created stop motion films to show the properties of 3D shapes to demonstrate how they convert from a net to solid form. When constructing this type of film, students chose a storyline that revealed something about the object’s identity in the real world, for example, making an octahedron into a diamond with the storyline of having thieves steal it or making a square-based pyramid one of the pyramids in Egypt. Blogging Our students began their journey into the Blogosphere using their own site through Edublogs. Students use their blog to inform and educate others, share ideas and personal experiences, motivate and inspire others, reflect on learning, generate discussion and entertain a real audience. The blogs allow students to develop their voice as a writer and also begin an online presence in a safe ‘digital classroom’ environment. They personalise their site by choosing the layout and design features that appeal to them and also by deciding which

topics they wish to post about. Some students have also chosen to make blog pages on their sites to communicate more about their passions. Students have created pages about DIY craft activities, motorbike stunts, biographies about inspirational people, pet diaries … the list goes on. Some students have also chosen to extend their online presence and develop their own websites about topics like music, sport and surfing. Project Based Learning and Design Thinking Project Based Learning (PBL) and Design Thinking can bridge what we know and how we innovate in schools. A combination of these two approaches in the classroom provides for a vast amount of choice and develops deeper and more conceptualised learning for students. Encouraging students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning is what lies at the heart of PBL. While PBL has existed for decades, Design Thinking has recently entered the education lexicon. It promotes empathy and insight for the student experience of learning, and is ideal for collaborative learning and developing student voice. As an instructional framework, it allows teachers to achieve these goals while still meeting curriculum requirements. Tony Wagner (2015) writes that today’s students exist in an “innovation economy”. They need to become not only problem solvers, but also problem seekers -- those who can look for solutions in contexts where one never previously existed. PBL and Design Thinking may provide two avenues to scaffold our own thinking and instruction as we move toward innovating in our classrooms and schools to allow for more student voice and choice in learning. One way we chose to respond to this idea and embrace the notion of PBL and Design Thinking in the classroom was through a project called #amaze_ them. The #amaze_them project was a collaborative task that was undertaken by all Year 6 students over the course of a semester. The aim of the project was for students to find a need within the community about something they felt passionate about and #amaze_them by coming up with a solution for it to assist the target audience with the desired outcome. This project consolidated learning across all areas, challenged students to use various forms of communication and, most importantly, to understand who their audience was and how they could use their technological skills to help fulfil the identified need. The process of the project included thinking of something they were passionate about, identifying a need within that topic to fulfil, pitching a creative solution to a panel, developing a plan of attack, learning a range of communication skills to assist achieving the outcome (interview skills, e-mail writing, film genres, promotional film making, persuasive writing, etc), creating a product and then getting it to the intended audience. Students chose

to undertake projects from helping local charities get more support by making promotional films to go out to schools, to delivering sport skills clinics to help dissolve the gender stereotypes in sport. The choice in student topics for the projects were diverse and due to the design of the project, success was eminent for all students involved. For more examples of the students’ #amaze_them projects, please visit http://www. geelongcollege.vic.edu.au/learning-teaching/ middle-school/year-6/amaze-them. TED talk Another way we choose to embrace a personal learning journey for our students is through the process of creating a TED-style talk. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences run by a non-profit foundation under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TED provides a forum for people – celebrities, entrepreneurs and amateurs – to stand up and have a say on things of interest to them related to topics of science, culture and education. Within this project, students think about something that ‘rocked their world’, making sure they have a personal connection to a topic that they want to share with an audience. Students chose to communicate their perspectives on things like overcoming a fear of sharks, how moving schools helped them gain independence and confidence, how people living with autism shouldn’t be judged for how they behave, the importance of understanding what you eat and witnessing poverty in a 3rd world country making them appreciate the simple things in life. Again, the list of topics students chose was diverse and spanned many content areas with a surprising amount of depth and understanding. Whilst undertaking this TED-style project, students are faced with opportunities to develop their storytelling and performance techniques, utilise visual imagery to enhance a message, understand the power of persuasive writing and use technical features like the creation of story clips and audio recording. Allowing for students to delve into their passions through the personal journey of something that rocked their world meant that they were fully engaged and motivated to succeed with this individual project.

What do you want to say and who are you saying it to? The value that essentially underpins the learning philosophy within my learning area at school is to communicate a clear message to an audience. In other words the students need to think about what they are communicating and who they are saying it to. Later on, the focus becomes about how to get the desired message to the intended audience.

The choice in student topics for the projects were diverse and due to the design of the project, success was eminent for all students involved.

Allowing choice for students to utilise technology to create, collaborate and communicate has proven very successful in the classroom

Personal/Passion Projects With both the #amaze_them and TED projects that students undertake in my classroom, there is some structure given by the teacher: a design brief or process to follow with numerous checkpoints to complete along the journey. However, with the Personal/Passion projects that the students undertake both at school and at home, students are allowed 100% choice meaning that students can tap further into their passions and interests. The only criteria for these projects is that they must communicate a clear message to an intended audience. With Passion Projects, students chose topics like: how to bake a three course meal for your family; how to kick a goal in soccer; original music production with accompanying music clips; dance films with messages about friendship; and dub smashes. There was a film about how to make a film, another about how to ride a Segway and even a time lapse film to show the process of making a scenic watercolour painting. Allowing choice for students to utilise technology to create, collaborate and communicate has proven very successful in the classroom. Guru Sessions Amidst the glitz and glamour of the nature of student choice in the Project Based Learning and Design Thinking classroom instructional frameworks, there is still a need for the development of certain student skills which therefore requires some direct teaching. I personally believe that this is the real beauty of the personalised projects; students are so driven by their passions and interests that they seem to forget that they are actually breaking down barriers in their learning and finding themselves in unknown waters. When taking on PBL tasks, students tend to get very creative and passionate about what they are doing. They dream big and set high, yet achievable goals. Therefore, there is an importance placed on the development of new skills that are required to get the job done. When students plan to do a task that they don’t necessarily know how to do, it doesn’t appear to act as a ‘stopper or blocker’ in their journey, but rather as a hurdle to overcome in achieving their end goal. For example, a group of students working on a project last year was excited about sport and journalism and wanted to develop their own web page to inform an audience about different sports within the school and local community. All of the planning and ideas were logical, yet there was no actual consideration that the students involved in the project had no idea of how to make a web page. So, what seems like a logical step to solve this problem? A ‘Guru Session’ on how to create a website! A Guru Session is a structured teacher-driven content based mini-lesson on a certain skill. It is another way of allowing for student choice in learning. During most learning activities at school, the teachers, and sometimes students, take on the role of being a ‘guru’. Such skills as website design, promotional films, interview skills, professional e-mail writing or song

How can our school encourage the students to have greater choice in their learning? What needs to change? What can stay the same? What resources do we need? What do we need to know more about? How can we learn more?

writing are all explicit teaching opportunities for guru sessions. Alongside guiding and monitoring students, this becomes a vital role for the teacher in the process of student led projects. Physical Learning Spaces In order for students to have a greater amount of choice in learning when working on projects or participating in focused guru sessions, there must be a range of opportunities for students to learn in different ways depending on their learning styles. Some students prefer to learn collaboratively and others prefer complete silence. So, how do we cater for all students? Simple! We create spaces to suit different types of learning so that students can choose a physical space that suits their preferred learning needs in a particular content area. The spaces that we provide (along with funky and geographically appropriate names) are: • The Café – a space for collaboration and discussion in large groups • The Bat Caves – silent spaces (often marked off with furniture and in corners of a room) for individual work • The Campfire – a space provided for small group discussion • Cosy Corner – a space for guided teacher instruction • The Beach – a space for structured guru sessions • The Runway – a no standing zone (an area where there are office doors and audio and studio filming booths that require silence with passing traffic) For more inspiration about learning ideas that encompass student voice and choice within the classroom context, please follow: Twitter: @FifiStafford Instagram: tgc_techtales Reference

Wagner, T, Compton, RA 2015, Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Further reading

Richardson, W, 2012, ‘Preparing students to learn without us’, Educational leadership, vol. 69, no. 5, pp 22–26. Grant, M, 2002, ‘Getting a grip on project-based learning: Theory, cases and recommendations’, Meridian: A middle school computer technologies journal, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 83. Brown, T 2008, ‘Design thinking’, Harvard business review, vol. 86, no. 6, pp. 84.

Profile for Geelong College

Hearing voice through choice - Creating choice in student learning  

An ACEL article written by Fiona Stafford, Year 6 teacher at The Geelong College.

Hearing voice through choice - Creating choice in student learning  

An ACEL article written by Fiona Stafford, Year 6 teacher at The Geelong College.