I spent last weekend camping with my advisory at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, and while Northern Michigan painted with fall colors left an impact on me (see above), what struck me even more was seeing my students outside of the classroom setting. Even though we do a trip like this every year, I always forget how different students can be once removed from the four walls of a classroom. I saw numerous students who are relatively passive during class sprint up and down the sand dunes, giving off intermittent yelps of joy, while other students who never speak during discussions captivated audiences in the bright glow of a campfire.
The lesson these kinds of trips always remind me of when it comes to my practice is that context matters. Different situations can cause the same person to behave in strikingly different ways, which is something we as writing teachers need to take note of when creating our assignments. While there are no perfect assignments, some prompts are better than others at inspiring our students to write well. And while there is no magic formula for what makes a strong assignment, there is one element that makes it far more likely that students will have the context needed to embark on papers that they are actually inspired about: choice. Continue reading “Sleeping Bear Dunes, Dan Pink, and Cranes: How to Use Student Choice to Improve Instruction and Assessments”