You know the feeling when you finish a novel that kind of let's you down in the end? Or when you watch a movie that kind of trails off in a murky, undramatic way? It leaves me uneasy, like all that time invested didn't add up to a resonant, relevant truth. I get the same feeling as a teacher, when a reading or writing unit ends with a culminating piece of work that puts a hard stop on what was learned—rather than leaving students open to the future of the work. When students are leaders of their own learning lives they become owners of their own learning and are able to also see each other as instructional resources too. The result of this is that students begin to not only elevate the growth within themselves, but also elevate the potential in one another.
I thought about what I could do to help students fully incorporate what they’d learned, and I realized that whatever it was, it had to involve students articulating their successes and biggest take-away for themselves, in their own unique way. Then, because I wanted the experience to tilt toward ongoing, future learning, I realized it would be powerful if students taught their peers. In so doing, they would have an authentic reason for reflecting on what they learned, and a purpose for framing it for others to benefit from as well. So, my class and I planned an Ed-Camp, and it was an empowering experience. Students designed their own “mini-courses” that fellow learners signed up for, based on their interests. Below are the steps we took, and I hope it will inspire you to also give it a try! It is a powerful way to reinforce the idea that we all continue to apply our new skills, develop our thinking, and pursue topics long after the unit ends.
First, I described the Ed Camp concept, and I asked them to begin to think about what they might want to teach others. Students made these choices through careful reflection thinking about what they saw as their strengths throughout their reading and writing unit and made a list of these. I let students know that their class could be about some aspect of reading and/or writing, or it might be focused on something more general, like nurturing a learner’s mindset (see below example called Planting and Nurturing). Learners then used their reflections and self-observations and wrote “mini-course” blurbs on sticky notes, and we displayed them all for the rest of the class to see.
Days 2 & 3
In the next two days, learners used a planning form to explain what their reading/writing sessions would be about and how they planned on teaching it. This part of the process helped learners begin to plan thoughtful ways in which they wanted to model and engage their peers. It got them to think about the message or strategy they wanted to convey, and the best way to teach this to others.
Days 4 & 5
Students had two days to visit the Ed Camp offerings board and make choices about which classes they wanted to attend. They jotted down the course names they planned on visiting in their notebooks
Next, students attended the sessions of their choice and took notes while they were learning from their peers. I circulated around as students worked, and guided them to document what the lesson focus was and their takeaways.
At the end of each mini-course, learners shared out their questions or curiosities and engaged in a vibrant discussion surrounding their thoughts and takeaways. This allowed learners to synthesize what was shared during the session and provided the peer teacher a chance to clarify or further explain if needed.
The Benefits of a Student-Led Ed-Camp
Provides a forum for students to recognize successes and strengths
Students share, interact, and learn from their peers
Encourages students to see that learning is a continual cycle
Makes it wholly acceptable for students to still have learning to do at the end of a unit
Fosters community, collaboration, and a growth mindset
As Gravity Goldberg has said, teachers need to step back so that students can step forward. Allow space for students to become their very own teachers. It gives us a unique perch from which to to listen and observe students as they become leaders of their own learning life.