If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer Camp: Student Choice

One of the central characteristics of my former camp was the focus on student choice. This focus was played out in many ways, but always came back to the idea that the students should feel ownership over everything that they did. One example of how this was put into practice was in video class, in which a small group of students planned, acted, filmed and helped edit a short movie.

During the first days of the class, students would go through a basic brainstorming process. They start with genres, and work their way to brainstorming more specific plot ideas. They are coached that all ideas are valid at this point in the process and that they should only react positively to other people's ideas.

Once a sufficient number of ideas are up on the board, they start the decision making process. They are invited to advocate for ideas that they particularly like (but never to criticize someone else's ideas). After everyone has had a chance to put in a good word for their favorite, the ideas get narrowed down. The emphasis is on building a consensus in which everyone is happy with the final decision. Counselors help them along using a lot of the 'yes and' approach. 'Yes your movie can be about aliens taking over the camp and cheerleaders who travel in time. We can make that work.'

When the plot of the movie has been chosen, the students continue to be involved in as many of the decisions as possible. Where should the camera be in this scene? What would make this more understandable for the audience? Was that take good enough, or should we film another?

The challenge when you put the focus so much on what the students want is that you could end up with the inmates running the asylum. When it is a parody of Lord of the Rings meets Finding Nemo, it's not too big a deal if the kids make kid-like decisions from time to time. But if we are going to bring these ideas into the classroom, there's a lot more at stake. There is curriculum to cover, and good behavior to teach, and that ever-important classroom management.

So how do we give students choices without them making the wrong choices? Is there even a place for student choice in the classroom?


Melissa B. said...

Because I'm a high school journalism teacher, I get to see the "give students choices" philosophy in action. They make mistakes, and they see those mistakes in print, and the mistakes (rarely) happen again--at least not in the same school year! BTW, Tara. R. is "guesting" for Take Another Look Thursday--please come on by and check it out!

Melissa B. said...

BTW, don't forget today's Silly Sunday Sweepstakes!! I've got a SWEET snap for you to caption!