Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rhizo15: From Connections to the Classroom / Part I

So, I did it. I sat down with two students in my writing course. I told them this is completely optional and they do not have to do this. They were selected because they had both done an exceptional job with every assignment and all I was asking them to do in the class this semester.

Three weeks left. And I told them, "I want you to spend this time doing something important to you and the research you've done in this class. The hard part, I am not going to tell you what to do. I am not going to even try to grade what you are going to do. I just want you to do something that is important to you and then tell me about it."

Immediately, one student said, "Because of my writing and thinking about the topic of my research, I really think I want to write a book. I want to take this time to actualize this book and start sketching out who this book will be about and what it is meant for." She went on to explain that she would create a daily journal where she continues to grow the ideas and the direction of the book. She would share some of that writing with me and what she has realized about herself in the process.

The second student listened and the said, "I wish all my teachers were like you. This is how I can learn, this is what I can do." I explained they wouldn't have to come to class anymore, but they would have to report back in a few weeks. They would be able to email me any time and I would help them, guide them, or mentor them along if they got stuck, wanted feedback, whatever. She leaned back and said, "This is so exciting, and a little scary. But it is what I can do." She waved her hand and said, "I'm getting emotional." And I knew where she was coming from. She said she was going to create a survey based on her research paper and try to refine data. She wanted to research and push what she knew about her topic. She wanted to do something rare, she wanted to find the information that was missing when she was looking for sources for her paper. She is picking up the path of others, standing on the shoulders of giants.

We set some ground rules. Your grade now is your final grade (they are excellent), or I can add on more for the work you do in the next few weeks, but I am not sure I can or want to assess that in terms of grades. I told them they didn't have attend class, but they had to communicate with me. In a few weeks, we will have a meeting to check in and see where their learning went and why.

And for a final examination - we will have a final examination lunch and discuss how this felt, what they expected, what they thought, what they learned, and how they feel about this type of learning.

Not only could I see the excitement of ideas and connections - but I could also feel that they were prideful, owners in their learning, excited that they were in control, and happy to be considered someone who should learn in this way.

Thinking back, I wish I started them earlier, I wish I trusted myself to trust them sooner. They have begun. I know they are excited and they will take this time to do something amazing. It feels strange that I am teaching less, and empowering them to do more. These feelings are the conflict between the traditional, objective methods of teaching in higher ed, and a model that has allowed two students to feel the excitement and the freedom of their own choices and ability in academia. I am excited for them. Today felt like a step in the right direction.


  1. This is an awesome assignment. I am trying to do this better in my own classes. Thank you for being an inspiration.

  2. I agree with Greg! THIS IS BRILLIANT. Thank you so much for sharing this... I love the way it boosts the element of student choice (always a good thing!) with the power of expressing confidence in students, an inspiring kind of confidence, something energizing and affirming. Fabulous!

  3. Wonderful and inspirational.
    Not all students have the personal characteristics or willingness to appreciate that, though. Maybe they have been taught in a totally different way for too long? Maybe not interested enough in learning? Nonetheless, your experience is fantastic and I hope I'll be able to repeat it some with some students.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is incredible. I really look forward to hearing how this unfolds.

  5. I would've cried if you'd been my prof and given me that assignment...tears of joy.