Empowering Students in History Class!

Many students go the entire day without making one meaningful choice about their education. Some go the entire year...

I know I have been guilty of being overly controlling of my curriculum, content, and the lessons I provide my students. As the teacher, I always wanted to provide the most meaningful lesson or project possible to ensure students and would spend a ton of time planning and creating my lessons.

But I often forgot an essential ingredient. 

Where in the lesson or where in this whole unit do students get to make their own decisions about what they learn, how they learn it, what resources they will use, or how they will be assessed? Even small choices can make a big difference in the classroom.

Here are 5 small and simple ways you can provide more student choice and voice in your lessons:

  1. Ask students what order they want to complete the work- the more challenging stuff first or last?

  2. Provide more questions than need to be answered and allow students to choose any 5 to answer. (Also really good if you need to differentiate for IEPs)

  3. Allow students to do their own research to get the answer. They need to learn how to find credible sources and evidence on their own

  4. Allow students to self-assess their work and reflect onhow well they feel they did, rather than you grading everything

  5. Create a go-to choice board so students can choose what they want to complete even if they all read the same text: a cause/effect chart, timeline, summary, creating individual questions to answer, writing a diary entry from the POV of someone in the lesson, etc.

The more we give students some control over their own education, the more we empower them to be life-long learners and much more ready for the world outside the classroom.

What about student-led projects?

A mentor of mine once told me that if all student projects look the same, no matter how good they are, you are failing them. 


But, it made me realize that I needed to open up my projects more. In his book, "Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning" John Spencer (and AJ Juiliani) reflected that many of the projects he created early in his teaching career were pretty much paint by number projects. 

Every aspect of their learning was pre-decided and students just check off boxes. That was all too true for my first years teaching as well!

Projects become meaningful and more powerful when we allow students to take the driver seat. They choose the focus (within a given topic), type of project (infographic, podcast, children's book), and set their own goals during the project.

Will it be messy? Sure. 

Is a teacher-created project and lesson more likely to be smooth sailing and lead to your desired outcomes? Yup.

But to prepare students for a future that they are going to navigate without teachers guiding them, we need to help them develop the skills to be 21st century citizens. 

I'm currently building a new module for my course, "Make History Engaging, Exciting, and Empowering" on Authentic Student Projects focused on how to navigate the challenges of PBL in your classroom.

It is exactly what I needed when I started my teaching career. And it all starts with that simple question, 'How can I allow for more student choice and voice in my classroom?' 

Onward to history,

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