We took our Medieval district assessment on Thursday (more on the results of that test in a later post) and reviewed the study guide the day before. During that review, I noticed some interesting things. Now, kids always want a list of the questions from the test with a list of the corresponding answers to those questions. That, in their minds, constitutes a "study guide". Well, the study guide they received was a list of topic areas with blank spaces for them to fill in what they knew about said topic. Many of the kiddos were not pleased. However, they had a week to fill out the study guide in preparation for the review.
The review was not a question-and-answer session. I explained to the kids that we will have a conversation, based on what the kids know about each topic, to review for the test. They are welcome to write down some of the ideas from our conversation as they apply to their study guide. "It will not be," I said to them, "a time when we look at the question and I tell you the words to put in the blank space. We'll converse and you'll write down what strikes you as important." The talk was going to go in one of two ways: a huge bomb or a pleasant surprise.
It was a pleasant surprise. For the first time that I can remember, someone in the room, other than me, was able to address each of the topics on the study guide. Many of the kids came across a lot of the ideas and information during their searches the past few weeks as we worked through the goals and standards for the Middle Ages Unit. Some of the kids even did their Inquiry Projects on the very topics that we were reviewing for the test and those kids talked with expertise about those topics. I told them many times, "You know more than you know you know."
In the past, I've always tried to use film, fun activities, interesting readings and robust online resources to teach the material for social studies. The kids would half-listen to me blather on about such-and-such topic and when the test came around, complain that they'd never even heard of the topics we'd been covering. Now, by putting the responsibility of learning on them, with me acting as a resource in class, kids actively learned, mustering all the skills they had and learning some new ones. This active learning was apparent during the review.
During the unit of study, I showed the kids the standards and goals, gave them a Google Doc of good resources (video, digital, book, etc) and left it up to them to determine how best they would learn. Now that they had a stake in their learning, they appear to have learned more than if I'd done things the old way. They chose how they would learn, making dozens of decisions along the way. They also chose their Inquiry Project question, assuring that it was of interest to them. Putting the responsibility of learning on the students was the key. They learned the material and some vital learning skills along the way.