By Shawna Audet
My approach to teaching is that I think of myself as an adventure guide. Starting a new unit is like embarking on a quest into an unknown land because learning opens up new worlds for the students. I want the students to feel safe to explore and I want them to feel the joy of learning something new. In addition, I want them to take a deep dive, rather than gaining a superficial understanding. Finally, I want them to learn in a way that allows them to retain the information long term. For this reason, I balance the moments where I am leading by giving the students lots of opportunities where they and can strike out on their own paths.
When it comes time to share what we have learned, I give my students many options for how they can show their learning. I do this because each student has their own unique learning profile, For example, some students work best in groups, others works best on their own. Some students excel when giving the chance to show their understanding of a concept through writing while others prefer to build a model or do an experiment. This means that, at the end of a unit, students might choose to do an oral presentation, build something, write an essay, create a song, or answer a short answer written test.
No way of showing one's learning is the "best" way for everyone, but there will be some that are the best ways for the individual students in my class. For this reason, my days of giving one written test that is to be completed by the whole class are long gone. I understand that my students have different mental strengths, so they need different types of assessments. By giving my students choice in how they show their learning, I am playing to the learning style strengths of everyone, which increases the chance that the students will remember the information in the long term.
At the start of each school year, I often have my student complete the Howard Gardiner Multiple Intelligences test. Then, I have my students graph their results. When we compare, the graphs always show that the students learn in a variety of ways. For the rest of the year, the students help me to ensure that when it comes time to show learning, that we create assessments that highlight the different learning strengths of everyone. The students feel empowered when they are given a say in how the assessments are structured and they appreciate that I see them as individuals and value their unique ways of learning. Best of all, this practice helps me to achieve my goal removing barriers to learning so that all of my students can take a deep dive into the new world that each unit offers.