Notes on Student Self Determination

A recent Edutopia post by Beth Holland on Student Agency rekindled thoughts and inspired me….A quote from the post featuring JSB, a man I have learned so much from :
Since the Middle Ages, individuals looking to become masters of particular subjects engaged in apprenticeships. In this role, they not only gained procedural knowledge, but also became enculturated into the community of practice. John Seely-Brown, Allan Collins, and Paul Duguid suggested applying this concept to the classroom through cognitive apprenticeships in the 1980s. They argued that school removed context from learning, as classroom culture does not mirror real-world culture
The locus of the article was on the history of the future of what Beth calls student agency in the post. Invoking a wide range of scholar practitioners from Dewey to Cuban and an assortment of talented teachers, the article seems to tug at a topic I care so deeply about.  I hope you might read the article and add to the many current iterations of student self determination in schools. Motions are afoot to make the (re)catalyst praxis showing up today into the pathways of innovation that are so vital for humanity, citizenship, and problem solving for a time of opportunity and crisis that await today’s young people.
Below are some selected resources to further inspire and a post I wrote in 2013 for an experiential conference that gathered many titans in democratic education, student directed project based learning and field studies– it was an incredible experience spanning a coastal lake, kayaking on the coast of Maine and 14+ hours of learning, design and experience. May this serve as a near history extension of Beth’s article for your near future designs that hold students as self determined, and yes critical agents in their own learning in the real world.

Opening Remarks KWEC13

Student  driven education is a burgeoning field today in light of the social,  economic and environmental landscapes of a century facing rapid change.  Knowing that education is a social construct that must be built and  tended, schools and organizations are looking to designs, research and  practice that allow for systemic change in education toward more  personalized, potent and useful learning environments. Indeed, McKenzie (2013)  writes of a new more experiential education in independent schools  allowing students the chance to collaborate and take risks. He writes  “without question, experiential learning enhances scholastic  learning….this type of learning builds confidence, encourages risk  taking, reduces the fear of failure, gives oxygen to collaboration,  nurtures imagination, promotes problem solving, allows reverie, and  grows a taproot from which scholastic learning flowers”. These are bold  assertions and he is not alone in his view of education. Learning  scientists, teachers and administrators, parents and  students see the  possibilities of a learning landscape deeply changed and salient to the  future.
The Kieve-Wavus Educators’ Conference (KWEC)  is an active 4 day excursion into the theory, design and practice of  student driven learning.  The conference focuses three main strands of  student driven education: Curriculum Integration, Student Driven Project  Based Learning and Field Studies. Within each of these strands lay the rhizomatic  fields of 21st century education.  We will set a tone for the  possibilities in education through a close look at curriculum  integration as a way to orient learner toward to student and community  and away from the department or institution. In the common practice of  driving our own project we will practice the skills necessary to  scaffold deep learning in young people without the need to deliver and  control the environment.  Through moving into field studies, we will  explore our world as learners living education.  For each of these  experiences, a theory starts the conversation.  We offer the following  sections as a conference “theory” knowing that we are covering only a  small piece of the research behind each topic.  We hope it serves the  conference in starting a conversation and fuels the further research,  design and praxis of KWEC 13 and well beyond.
Conference Strands: A Theory, Design and Praxis
  • Curriculum integration
“young  people have a right to be intelligent, to be well informed, to search  for meaning in the world, to be engaged in significant issues, to do  authentic work, to learn the whole story, to think critically, to form  [and clarify] values, to make judgements, and to be respected….”
At the root of student driven education is an exploration of meaning in an individuals personal and  social world. Knowledge can then be integrated in explanatory,  technical, personal and social ways through projects, field studies and  beyond.  Curriculum integration, researched and practiced first by  educational thinkers in the early 20th century (Dewey, Smith,  Kilpatrick), has remained a solid philosophy and praxis well into the  21st century.  Dewey (1905) writes of relating school to life as a natural path to integration,
“alI  studies grow out of relations in the one great common world. When the  child lives in varied but concrete and active relationship to this  common world, [their] studies are naturally unified. It will no longer  be a problem to correlate studies. The teacher will not have to resort  to all sorts of devices to weave a little arithmetic into the history  lesson, and the like. Relate the school to life, and all studies are of  necessity correlated.”
Conversely, in his book Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Learning,  Beane (1997) writes clearly that,
“….in  curriculum integration, knowledge from the disciplines is repositioned  into the context of the theme, questions, and activities at hand. Even when teaching and learning move into what looks like discipline-based  instruction, they are always done explicitly in the context of the theme  and for a reason driven by it. It is here that knowledge comes to life,  here where it has meaning, and here where it is more likely to be “learned.”
Dewey and Beane offer solutions in theory and  example to tremendous questions about education. Erudite questions,  posed by educators like Zhao (2012) , Wagner (2010)  (2012) Lichtman (2010) , Martinez and Stager (2013)  and others along with teams of dedicated educators and their  communities have a commonality. How do we address the needs of a rapidly  changing world through education that prepares young people for it.  In seeking ways to give students more control of learning they also recognize that tradition and culture are vital and different in communities everywhere. Curriculum integration allows for tradition and  community to be first and delivery methods of knowledge  secondary.
KWEC 13 is designed with curriculum  integration in mind. The personal and social concerns of educators are  foremost in our plans and actions, while the separate disciplines and  schedules for learning of the 20th century school are not given weight.   Curriculum integration at KWEC 13 will offer a glimpse into another way to experience education. Starting on the first full day of the  conference we will:
  • Review the core of curriculum integration
  • Collaboratively  plan the conference by engaging two essential conference related  questions with an overarching theme of Student Driven Education:
            -“What questions and concerns do you have about yourself as an educator?”
            -“What questions do you have about education and the world?”
  • Student Directed Project Based Learning
“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn no other way”
Student driven project based learning is a proven practice for student driven education that presents  students with new situations in learning to carry out and explore the  personal and social concerns they have. The work done in project  learning of this kind, creates conditions for significant transfer of  knowledge, skills, and understanding. Student driven projects support  learning in real-world problem solving, and engaged understanding in  varied ways. Projects develop through a dialogue between the students,  faculty, administration and community members and reveal the underlying  questions, the genuine interest, and possible pathways to carry out  extensive knowledge building that is rigorous, relevant and connected.   There are many models of PBL in education and it is good to situate our  conference amidst them.  Yong Zhao (2012) curates an enormous research  profile on PBL in his World Class Learners: Educating Creative and  Entrepreneurial Students. He narrows the research into three general  descriptions of PBL as a starting points:
  • academic PBL that is primarily classroom based, content driven, single subject and teacher led
  • mixed  models where teacher and student collaboration through groups is key  and a product is sought within the constraint of academic disciplines  inside and outside of a school
  • entreprenurship  models that are completely student led, focused on a product with the  teacher serving as venture capitalist, consultant, and motivator and  focus group. Academic disciplines emerge out of need and feedback.
At KWEC the student driven PBL we will design together is based on The Bridge Year and Edvisions  designs for PBL (closest to Zhao’s entrepreneurship model.)  As we  create our own projects as a vital structure and component of the  conference, we will experience the practice, process and requirements  for effective student driven learning. Starting on the first full day of  the conference we will:
  • review student directed PBL and Project Foundry, the software that most easily scaffolds the process well.
  • write a summary of our project in less than a page, often a good paragraph
  • create guiding questions that focus the inquiry and research
  • assess prior knowledge and a clear delineation of knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to carry out the project
  • create a plan to address gaps in prior knowledge and gain needed capacity for completing project
  • define assessment Tools
  • list Resources needed (human, print, technology, personal experience)
  • create timelines, sequence tasks, protocol for assessment.
  • plan for a product to benefit the field of student driven learning
  • Field Studies
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Field Studies enable students to “ground truth” their thinking through research that is multi-sited or in  the field as opposed to a fixed location and explore the landscape  freely to learn. Field studies offer the student researcher a chance to  gather data off campus and in real world contexts. Field Studies also  support student research and progress toward project objectives by providing opportunities for students to access a broad array experiences  and experts while studying a variety of communities and ecosystems;  lending depth and variability to project research (collect, analyze and  reflect on data and reporting). Student field studies like those offered  at The Bridge Year will use geospacial mapping, ethnography, ecosystem sampling and other techniques to better understand individual or group  projects and the broader ecology society and economy of regions (local,  regional and global). Field Studies couple research and peer  collaboration with social and physical challenges ranging from extensive  canoe and kayak based travel, hiking and more. As Roberts (2012)  posits, these experiences provide a field of learning and “fields do not presume homogeneity or consensus, only a common space within which  questions are raised, answers are sought, and the overall inquiry is  engaged.” Our process for field studies at KWEC 13 will be active,  engage our personal and social questions about education and give ample  time for practice in the technology and methods considered.   As part of  the conference we will:
  • introduce and  review field studies concepts, and activities along with powerful yet  simple apps that allow for robust field study data collection, mapping  and sharing.  We will also look at ways to field studies can be deployed  without machines.
  • discuss learning and landscape from the perspective of student driven learning.
  • explore  the botany, geology, wildlife, history and culture, management of lands  and    ecological connections in Midcoast Maine by motor vessel, kayak  and on foot.
  • work individually or together to keep a field portfolio of our gathered data and reflections on the conference.
  • Welcome to KWEC 13
At  Kieve-Wavus Education, we launch the Bridge Year with the solid belief  that young people given a chance to live their learning will lead  informed and  active lives as  individuals in community around the  world. With this same sentiment, we convene and welcome you to the first  annual Kieve-Wavus Educators’ Conference at the Kennedy Learning Center  this week.  If you can not be with us, please follow the conference  from afar and allow the combined research curated in the KWEC Wiki to  inspire your learning environment and to inspire you to join us next  year.
Reprinted here from The Bridge Year Emergence Blogpost Kieve-Wavus Educators Conference