Why It’s Time To Put Students In The Driver’s Seat

Think about how you or the people you work with approach the creation of a blended learning lesson plan. The first steps of coming up with and flushing out your initial idea. Then, scouring the web to find safe, factually accurate sites that are not blocked by your school filters and checking the fine print to make sure the terms of service don’t restrict access to children of a specific age. Then of course there’s learning how to use the site yourself, tailoring your lesson plan and constructing a rubric around the information you find, teaching your students how to use the website in question and finally getting around to actually explaining and assigning the lesson. In these days of mandated testing, pacing charts and state standards who possibly has time for that?

The solution most teachers have come to accept is eliminating or at least significantly limiting these kind of online activities; which acts as a disservice to our students who have become accustomed to process, think and learn through technological means. So what is a teacher to do? The answer is just, simplify.


Let Students Lead The Way

In lesson design, so many of us follow some sort of path similar to the one outlined above with it’s myriad of pitfalls and multiple steps. Consider flipping this process on it’s head, eliminating many of those steps and reverting to an “old way” of doing things. Just design your lesson, create a rubric, and turn the rest over to the students.

Now they are the ones responsible for figuring out the delivery system for your assignment. They can use a program they have used in other classes, at home, or one they just heard about that they would like to try. If student A wants to make and edit a movie, Student B can design a cartoon or create a website and it doesn’t matter. You’ve just created instant buy-in and individualization while still having all students meet the same (or similar) requirements. Just go over the rubric with them first to set expectations and guidelines, and – this part is *highly* recommended – give them time to start the project/assignment in class. We all know lab/computer time can be hard to come by, but even half a block of time would get this off the ground and give you time to make sure:

  1. They’re on the right track
  2. The site they are choosing to use is not blocked at school (thereby preventing any turn in or presentation day disasters)


A New Definition of Time Management

After that providing class time is entirely at your discretion. This method has innumerable benefits, just a few being the amount of time it gives back to the teacher both in planning and class time and more importantly, it places the students in charge of their learning. Many teachers complain that even the brightest students today are lost without explicit direction. They are constantly checking in to make sure what they’re doing is ok, and cannot proceed without being told the process. This is something that be blamed on many factors, the least of which are our own educational practices of the last decade. As they move on in life, we will need these students to become adults capable of (to use two very overused and popular catch phrases) “seeing the big picture” and “thinking outside of the box”. If we have only trained them to follow a listed set of instructions to achieve a pre-planned end goal, we are not preparing them for a successful future.

This method of teaching does require a certain amount of bravery. There is a very real chance that when a student asks you a question (How do I add media? How do I change the font? How do I import pictures? etc. etc.) you will have to say the dreaded “I don’t know”. But the neat thing is, your students are ok with this. You’re all learning as you go. More often than not another child in the class will be using the same site or will have at least used it before. If a classmate knows the answer, they can step into the role of teacher – from which much confidence is gained and leadership skills are learned. Even the most reserved kid really enjoys teaching their teacher a trick or two. If no one knows the answer, they can collaborate to find the solution; an activity that provides important life skills with many real-world applications. All while leaving the initiative, process development and ownership of the learning itself right where it belongs, in the hands of the learners.