During the first unit of my Grade 10 MYP Humanities class, after a Blitzkreig through the various government systems and political ideologies, I give the students two concepts – ideology, and governance. The rest is up to them: the topic of their inquiry, the product they create to show their understanding, the assessment criteria and the due date (within parameters). Their inquiry choices always astound me.
I always have the usual bunch interested in finding out why Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews, or what life in Fascist Italy or Cultural Revolution-era China was like for its citizens. But there are always a few who go beyond the usual – inquiring into the effect of British imperialism on the world, or of liberalist ideology on modern social democracies – topics that you’d normally find in university classes. Many of my international students always make it personal, inquiring into political eras their families have told them about but never researched themselves since don’t live in their “home” country – the effects of Nazism on Czechoslovakia, the dictatorship in post-war South Korea, life under Pinochet in Chile.
I give them a choice of 18 different formats in three categories: oral, written, and visual. They need to cover one from each category; again, choice has resulted in creative outcomes. Instead of the typical oral presentation, students are creating screencasts. Instead of the typical written essay, students are creating newspapers, manifestos or fictional stories. Instead of the typical visual poster, students are creating propaganda or graphic stories.
In the end, I feel confident that I’ve turned a typical, predictable classroom (“let’s write an essay about Stalin”) into a learning environment that’s highly differentiated, engaging for all students and pushes them into a level of sophistication that I normally couldn’t plan for.