We live in a user-driven world. In fact, every time you turn around, it would seem that your current search engine or social media application knows you better than you know yourself. While this may be a reality every time you open up Facebook, this still is not a reality in classrooms all over the country. Instead of user-driven learning, schools and classrooms alike are driven, not by the students, but by the traditional constraints put upon them.
Just like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all about the user, learning should be all about the user — the student — as well. After all, how do we expect our students to grow and find themselves in their own classroom if we don’t let them take control of the experience? Better yet, how can we buy in to this mindset when so many classrooms across the US are dominated by these traditional constraints?
Know the standards well. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but having a strong command and a flexible and fluent understanding of learning standards can only help you create a user-driven classroom. By becoming a teacher who has mastered the taxonomies of the Common Core and Next Generation, you can allow students to explore and you can create learning experiences that emerge through provocation, retrospectively labeling their learning with standards, as opposed to prescribing it beforehand.
Use assessment to create future learning experiences, not to categorize and label kids. Assessment doesn’t have to be for grades, and even if you are working in a system that uses letter grades, it doesn’t mean your activities have to be graded as such. When I worked for a system that gave letter grades, I waited until the end of the trimester to use letters to grade my students. By doing so, my students were able to use rubrics and proficiency scales to measure their growth qualitatively, as opposed to letter grades that simply summarized their learning. And what about the parents? You’d be surprised at just how flexible parents are with grading if you explain your rationale clearly and help them see that it’s in their child’s best interests.
Document and listen. A lot of times, we don’t even really have to try that hard to figure out what students know and what students want to know. After taking the time to sit back and listen, you might be surprised at just how forthcoming and vulnerable each of your students is.
This information that they — our users — provide so willingly can be some of the most valuable data we can possibly collect.