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Monday, February 3, 2014


When I was pretending to be a wood shop teacher about 20 years ago I required my students to build a series of self-selected wood projects.   For each, they were expected to do the following:
  1. Research the project for plans, needed materials, tools required, etc.
  2. Plan the project from start to finish, with a rough estimate of timelines.
  3. Procure the needed materials and tools.  Learn just-in-time knowledge/skills about both the materials and tools.
  4. Build Version #1 of the project from start to completion.
  5. Converse with me about the completed project, engaging in reflection and self-assessment about their processes and the product.
  6. Build Version #2 of the exact same project.
  7. Converse with me about completed Version #2, engaging in reflection and self-assessment about their processes and the product, AND the revisions/differences from those used in building Version #1.
  8. Give Away, Sell, or Keep the project.  Regardless of which choice the students made here, their product was on display for some “audience” other than themselves and me. 

Invariably, many students would ask if they could build Version #1 and Version #2 concurrently, as they deemed it to be more efficient, on multiple levels.  My answer to that question was always the same - “No”!  During the entire period of project building, I observed, commented, advised, and facilitated the building process.  Students were also free to learn from each other.  Cheating was not only allowed, but encouraged (if it meant peeking at other students' work and learning from it)!

While each step I outlined above provided some rich learning experiences for the students, the deepest learning consistently emerged from the building and completion of Version #2.  It was in Steps 6 and 7 that the students gained the deepest understanding of the materials, the tools, and the processes needed to bring a quality piece of craftsmanship to fruition.  The debrief with the student about barriers, glitches, successes, tool craft, and lessons learned was always the most satisfying experience for me.  It was in this conversation (not a test, not an essay) that I could get the most complete grasp of the real learning experienced by each student.  

And invariably, the learning of each student was DIFFERENT in some way from the learning of all the other students.

In fact, that is the very nature of authentic LEARNING – it is individualized, customized, personal.

Could I have given the students a multiple-choice test over this content?  Absolutely.   Would it have been easier on them and on me?  Probably.  But, it would have told me virtually nothing about how much the student truly understood about the content.  I wanted to know what and how much they truly understood, not how good they were at guessing for right answers, or eliminating bad ones.

The same pedagogical approach can be used with ANY content, academic or otherwise.  
Why wouldn't we?

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