After reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive I began to think about the idea behind companies that allow workers to direct their own work on specific days, pursuing whatever projects interest them. Couple those insights about the power of autonomy with the persistent, nagging acknowledgment that there is simply too much history that I want to include in my limited course time. The result was what I called “Free Friday.”
I gave students a class period to research anything in history or current events that they wanted. They were expected to spend an hour beyond class time researching and then to write a post to a Moodle forum sharing what they had learned. The final piece was to comment on at least one classmate’s post.
It was interesting to see that some students seemed to jump right into it and take off. Others struggled to find a topic. There were definitely some who spun their wheels for a while. Both groups of students convinced me that it was a worthwhile exercise. I was only able to do it once this year with juniors, but next year I would like to do it with all of my classes – grades 10-12, several times a year. My hope is that they will at least learn something about whatever they choose. My dream is that they will take what they learn and pursue it in greater depth at some point, either in a portfolio project or a major research paper, that they will then share.
There are elements to tweak. I think that I need to provide more lead time for students to think about things they might want to pursue. I may even consider providing a list of potential topics, particularly things students may not know about and that we would be unlikely to discuss in class otherwise, with the caveat that they are welcome to discard my suggestions. I think that I would provide a structured setting in class for students to share what they have learned, beyond simply writing a paragraph for a Moodle forum.
I have a vision of creating a community of scholars in my classroom. It seems that giving students some ownership over their learning is absolutely critical. I know that I am making choices about what content we study every single day. It’s about time that I gave up a little control. While I believe there are historical topics that are essential, and it’s my job to construct lessons to illuminate those, there are many more worthy contenders for the remaining time I have with my students.