Proposal Elements:
Bridging the Gap - Student Direction

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Student Direction:

Opportunities for student direction are essential to the success of your engaged learning project. Teachers are facilitators and co-learners of the learning that is taking place. Students are the investigators who are given choices and encouraged to follow open-ended channels to solve problems and/or find solutions.


To help you in identifying and creating student direction for your projects, look at the following examples. Examples of poorly developed student direction are shown on the left. On the right are examples of well-formed student directions. Read through them and see if you can determine why each poorly written item is just that, "poorly written" or "poorly developed." Following the table you will see some reasons listed why the item(s) may deserve a "poor" rating. But remember: these are just some of the more common reasons. You may come up with many other reasons why the item is poor and ways to transform it into a good element for use within an engaged learning proposal.

Student Direction : Bridging the Gap

 Poorly Written
 Well Written
1-a) Students are given a list of criteria that must be met for a new observatory site for NASA. They are each then assigned a country and must check off whether each item on the list exists or not for their country. 1-b) Students divide into five research teams to make recommendations for building a new observatory for NASA. Students will evaluate scientific and cultural data for five potential sites in Antarctica, Japan, Chile, Africa and the United States, make presentations to a formal review panel, and decide which product to best share what they have learned.
2-a) The foreign language teacher tells the students that they are going to have a competition to see who can come up with the best itinerary which covers the most cities in Germany within "X" amount of time and utilizing "X" amount of Deutsch marks. 2-b) The school band has received an invitation from their school's sister city in Germany to come and perform at the local festival in the summer. The PTO has said they will provide backing for the trip if the cost can be kept within a certain budget. The class forms into committees to research and determine the best and most cost-effective itinerary and travel arrangements.
3-a) Students studying Native Americans are given a list of materials and a manual for building a teepee. The teacher forms groups and assigns tasks for the students. The kids have a ball building their teepee and playing in it afterwards. 3-b) Students studying Native Americans in an interdisciplinary unit notice the differences in the types of tribal dwellings. They decide to take on the role of a particular tribe and research what aspects of their tribes' lifestyle and environment would impact the type of dwelling built. They decide to use the Internet to contact today's tribal councils for information. Some students extend the project to examine if their house or apartment is best for their environment and what effect the layout of the house and neighborhood affect how their family and neighbors interact.
4-a) Students will be researching water conservation. They will follow the procedure in their study packets and use the online materials when needed. They choose a product to complete from a menu of choices to share with the class. 4-b) Students studying the issue of water shortage in their hometown have brainstormed several possible solution approaches to the problem. They self select the approach that they wish to further study. After completing their research they will create a product of their choosing to reflect their learning.


1-a) Giving students an assignment which is to be completed in a step-by-step fashion is not allowing the students to be directors of their own learning.

2-a) A common misconception is that a competitive activity (such as a scavenger hunt) allows the students to direct their own learning. However, it is the teacher who is setting up the rules the students must follow. While they may have fun, it is not engaged learning.

3-a) Another misconception is that if an activity is fun, then it meets the criteria for engaged learning. Here, the kids may have a ball building their teepees, but the activity has been entirely teacher-directed.

4-a) Frequently, menus are used as a way to give students a choice in the product they create. But, this menu is not true student self-direction. The teacher is controlling the options and the process within which the students operate.

Now you are ready to test your skill as a developer of student direction. Look at the outlines for student direction and decide if they are poorly developed or well developed. Be prepared to answer, "Why?" or "Why not?" If your answer is a "thumbs-down," try to rewrite the student direction into a form that would receive a "thumbs-up." When determining which direction to point your thumb while reading the outlines below, keep asking yourself these three questions: What is the teacher's role? What is the student's role? Who directs the learning in this project?

Student Direction - Thumbs-Up or Thumbs-Down

1) Everything we do every day involves some element of risk. What is risk? Risk is anything that has the possibility of loss or injury. Students are asked to think about the risks they take getting to school everyday. They are then asked to think about how to determine which risks are worth taking and which should be avoided. They then form teams to identify a risky action they routinely engage in and determine just how risky it is through Internet research.
2) Students are given the task of exploring the educational systems in an assigned foreign country. The teacher delegates each research task into a specific time period and place—i.e., Monday we are going to the learning center to research in books and reference materials; Tuesday we will be going to the computer lab to send e-mail, etc.
3) Math students are assigned one company from a group of five which they then research by filling out a worksheet. They are then given a set amount of money spent on their stock twenty years ago. From this, they must determine the history of the stock and how much it is worth in today's market.

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