Supporting Student Voice and Choice Leads to Equity

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Recently, an article in Educational Leadership provided a window into student ownership in the Project Based Learning methodology. In it John Larmer and John R Mergendoller of the Buck Institute for Education point out that there is one essential that moves us towards more student ownership and engagement for all students: Student Voice and Choice. In it a teacher explains what it looks like from her perspective:
“Once her students’ interest was piqued by a challenging question, Ms. McIntyre explained the requirements for the “Don’t Close the Beach” project, which included an individually written paper, an oral presentation of students’ work accompanied by media technology, and a product of students’ choice created by teams. Students chose to develop media kits, public service announcements, web pages, brochures, and letters to government and industry officials, among other products.”
Educators have continually turned to Howard Gardner and his theory on multiple intelligences as means of providing equity for all students. They’ve focused on assessments and curriculum that focuses on the student’s personal tastes and abilities. A teacher might provide an assessment product that would be artistic in nature and at the same time hold students accountable for content standards and learning.
However, these have never quite ensured equity in terms of assessment of student learning. Why? Because ultimately it is teacher-directed. The teacher is still choosing the method in which students display their learning, even though they may have provided an option that will ensure certain students will flourish. If we want true student construction of knowledge then we must allow for more student voice and choice in their learning. Why shouldn’t it be in the assessment?
Giving student’s the autonomy to choose their learning product and the opportunity and means to create that product is just one way Student Voice and Choice in PBL leads to student ownership and engagement. Student Voice and Choice leads to options that foster technology literacy, oral communication and creativity — excellent 21st century skills.
In addition, the teacher had a traditional paper — most likely to ensure individual written construction of knowledge — to fulfill requirements of the traditional education system, which is still in force. There is still control, but there is also student ownership. How can the teacher manage this type of assessment? Because the teacher knows exactly what she is assessing. She can assess the same content standards in a variety of formats produced by the students. Equity is present because students are given a variety of products to choose from that address multiple ways of knowing, and ultimately they are engaged.

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