Learning by Choice

The MOOC I’m enrolled in now reminded me of this article I read recently, about the allure of absolute learner control. The article makes a passing reference to the Brooklyn Free School, which I need to learn more about.

The idea behind the school is that there are no grades, no tests, no mandatory assignments. The students organize their learning and are responsible, with guidance from teachers, for their choices. The idea is that learning is deeper when it is self-directed.

This approach for school age kids is not for the faint of heart, of course, and I admit that as compelling as I find the premise, I certainly wonder about the effects of maturity. In my MOOC, I have complete freedom to engage or not, but I have the emotional maturity and self-direction, at least in theory, to make good choices. Would I have as an adolescent?

Maybe. Curiosity is such a compelling motivator if properly curated and skillfully directed. I was about to write, “but learning is hard work,” but maybe that just means we are doing it wrong.


2 thoughts on “Learning by Choice

  1. Ellen

    I tried a MOOC but didn’t last long; poor choice of topic, perhaps. But your post reminded me of a book I read a few months back, “Education and Democracy in the 21st Century” by Nel Noddings. My favorite idea from this book, which had quite a few, is “middle school as a two-year period of no grades but a “try everything” practice, to help kids plan for the future.” The idea was not to let kids choose, per se, but to more or less require them to try everything in a no-pressure environment.

  2. plilja

    A variant of this “try anything” self-directed approach is in use in the Spring Lake Park District in Minnesota in a program they call “lighthouse” (http://www.springlakeparkschools.org/schools/lighthouse-school). It works really well for some students (often the sorts of students who would be labeled “gifted and talented”), and in many cases provides a much more successful environment for them than the traditional classroom. However, the state and federal curriculum and testing requirements do not go away in the program and so there is a constant tension between what the students and their counselors have chosen as their learning path and what the state is requiring they demonstrate at that point in their education.


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