Designing A Prototype
Who Is My Audience?
Finding effective ways to engage students in subjects or topics they would not normally find interesting has been challenging teachers for a long time. During my first year of teaching I asked a more experienced teacher how I could encourage my students to be more excited about what we were learning. His response was, "I don't know, wave your magic wand at them."
Recalling that moment I knew I wanted to make that magic wand for other teachers who were not satisfied to let their students be bored and disengaged. At the same time I wanted incorporate students as an audience to my research as well. Many teachers don't involve students in the teaching decisions they make, and I believe this directly leads to students feeling like recipients rather than active participants of their education. So while my end product is for teacher use, my goal is for students to also be aware of their teacher's practices and why they are using them.
What Is My Goal?
The goal of my research is to help teachers plan lessons that effectively provide students with meaningful decisions regarding their work as a means to raise student engagement and success.
What Do You Need?
As my end product is a lesson planning strategy teachers wishing to implement this tool will need at lease some freedom from their administration to create their own lessons. If you are at a school that requires you to follow curriculum strictly, I highly recommend introducing this research to your administration and showing them how closely it works with and uses student curriculum for a basis of learning.
I'm not going to lie to you, planning a unit takes time. Believe me, I understand that you don't have enough time, teachers never do. Remember, however, that you only really need to plan the unit from the bottom up once and that you can always go back and make small improvements the next year. You also don't need to use this strategy with every lesson you teach. I know that I have gotten excited about a new pedagogy and then burned out on it when I tried to apply it to everything I did. So take it slow and enjoy spending your weekend lesson planning!
When implementing your first Decision Based Learning Unit understand and accept that its going to be a little chaotic. Most students are not used to being asked to make meaningful decisions at school and its normal for kids to be a little less disciplined when they are trying something new. Anticipating this reaction from your students will make it easier for you to be patient with them and to calmly guide them through the process.
You might also have some students who will want to use their new freedom to make poor decisions. Understand that this is also a reaction to trying something new and the novelty of making a poor decision will quickly wear off. Finally, know that your students probably have little decision making experience and might need your support to help them think through their options and make an informed choice.
An Adventurous Spirit
Most teachers are used to being the rulers of their classrooms and using this teaching strategy does give up some teacher control. Sometimes you will get into class wide discussions about some fact a student found on one of the resources that everyone else missed. Sometimes your students will want to learn more about something that is not aligned with a standard. As you begin to let your students make decisions, they will want to make more and more. Your students will begin to understand how learning works and will want to play a more active role in that process. When this happens work with them to construct their learning experience together and know that you now have a fully engaged student.
My End Product
To create my end product I reduced all of the ideas from my second prototype into one infographic any teacher could easily put in a planning binder or put on the wall in their classroom.
When I began designing my logo I knew I wanted something very simple, yet conveyed the intentions of my research clearly. I scanned the internet for ideas and saw a picture of some converse shoes next to two street arrows. I loved the idea and immediately thought about replacing the converse with kids shoes' to symbolize the focus on students as the decision makers in my research. I then considered that most people recognize two or more arrows in a picture as symbolic of somebody needing to make a decision. Put together the image worked perfectly for my research.
When actually creating my logo I decided to use three arrows instead of two to communicate that students should be able to choose from more than two options in a decision-based learning classroom. Finally I chose green to be the background color in the logo because of its associations with creativity, safety, growth, and hope; all of which I hope to encourage and improve with my research.