In the Maine classrooms of RSU 2, the school districts serving several communities near Augusta, instructional coach Courtney Belolan helps teachers use a different approach to assessments: students get to choose how to demonstrate proficiency of science concepts, rather than taking a common exam given by the teacher. Here, the teacher determines the level of rigor for the chosen task, but the student decides what he or she would like to do based on personal interests and strengths. Illustrating this key precept of student-centered learning in which lessons are personalized to each student’s strengths and students take ownership of their learning,
instructional coach Belolan gives five examples of how students can demonstrate their understanding of the structures and functions of animal cells:
– A children’s book page showing an animal cell, with labels and simple explanations of how the major organelles work.
– A Prezi showing an animal cell. The presentation zooms in on different parts of the cell with a narrator explaining their functions
– A pop song about the animal cell. Each verse focuses on a different organelle.
– A multi-paragraph essay describing the key parts of an animal cell
- A hand-sewn felt animal cell doll with all the major parts labeled and a display box with descriptions each major part.
These assessments are different, but Ms. Belolan explains why it works:
Given a scoring scale, any group of science teachers would be able to judge any one of these products and come to consensus on which meet the target and which do not. Likewise, any one science teacher could use the same scoring scale to judge all of these products and determine which students demonstrate proficiency and which do not. The assessments are all reliable and valid because the are being judged using the same criteria.
Here is a graphic from Great Schools Partnership to illustrate the approach.
Several New Hampshire districts have transitioned to a student-centered learning model, including Pittsfield Middle High School. Here is a video of Pittsfield’s approach to learning, which superintendent John Freeman says empowers students to take ownership of their learning and of their futures.
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