Today I handed over the control of the course curriculum to my IB Biology students. Did I feel compelled to justify my decision? Of course I did. After listening to my 90 minute lectures and/or participating in laboratory experiments or tutorials every period the entire school year, attending a 6 hour LAB DAY on a Saturday as well as evening and weekend tutorials, submitting their lab portfolios for internal assessment in a timely manner, and surviving a two day IB exam, I felt that they had proven themselves as dedicated students. Now it was time to give them some autonomy. I know that I stand in the minority in my way of thinking, but I contend that we underestimate the ability of our students to self-regulate. Clearly students are not accustomed to the teacher saying, “Go ahead, you figure this out.” It then leads to some uncertainty. But within minutes the tone of the group changed and I sat back while my students became the teachers of the classroom.
The group quickly agreed that they would like to do presentations on scientific areas of interest during the remainder of the semester. This could have gotten tricky since there are a limited number of periods remaining in which we will meet, and one is only two days away. Collaborators that they are, however, one bright student immediately offered to take that early slot. Another followed suit. Amazing. I wish I had been videotaping this scenario play out. Corporate America could learn some valuable insights from my I.S. teens.
The issue of grades was then brought to the table. Again, I told my students that I entrusted them to define this aspect of the assignment. Two students volunteered to create a rubric for the class and post it on Facebook (as well as send it to me). Expectations. They understand the importance of knowing that the standards should be clearly set from the onset so that everyone will have the maximum opportunity for success. They can perceive what it means to be fair, and that their grades cannot be gifted, but must be earned.
What purpose does this approach to learning serve? My students are savvy and will know exactly how much work to do in order to earn the maximum allotted points. But in researching an area of interest, knowing that their “A” is basically guaranteed, some may find that they enjoy learning more when the work isn’t thrust upon them. Some will figure out how to connect Biology to other academic disciplines, such as History or Psychology. Some will decide to make their presentations fun and/or funny to please their peers. And if for even one student, this is his/her finest memory of IB Biology, then this decision will have been worth it. The intrinsic value of learning was lost for most students somewhere along with their days of hopscotch. I look forward to seeing what they come up with when empowered to become the teachers of the classroom.