Guest post by Mike King

Located on the rolling plains of Southwest Kansas, Dodge City is a town with Wild West roots where Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday used to rule the land. Today, Dodge City is less lawman and gunfighters and more meatpackers and manufacturers with Cargill Meat Solutions and National Beef as the community’s top employers. As principal of Dodge City Middle School (DCMS), I am on a constant mission to cultivate opportunities for our students to develop college and career readiness skills and help them take ownership of their learning. 

Student-Centered Learning: A Collective Challenge 

How do we place students at the center of their own learning? In 2012, our faculty took on this collective challenge and sought ways to provide students opportunities to take ownership of their education. We believed that if our students could be at the center of their own learning, they would find relevance and purpose in it. We asked ourselves:

  • How can we provide an opportunity for students to have a voice in whywhat, and how learning experiences take shape?
  • How can we provide avenues for students to express their existing talents to fit what they are learning?

From these driving questions, we sought a universal solution that moved students away from passively receiving information to actively participating in their own learning process. After much research and discussion of the best student-centered practices, our faculty restructured our existing programs and adopted a new student-led conferencing initiative.

The Story of Student Growth: Curating Student Artifacts 

Our student-led conferences provide students an opportunity to reflect upon and showcase their growth as learners. Once every year in the spring, students meet with a teacher and their parents/guardians for a conference that allows them to lead the group through their portfolio. This portfolio is a purposeful collection of each student’s work telling the story of their growth as a learner. Students use the work in the portfolio to explain what they learned and provide evidence or demonstration of the skills they acquired. In addition, they reflect on the progress they made toward their goals and commit to new ones for the next period.

To support students in the creation of these portfolios and preparation for their conferences, we restructured a daily 26-minute advocacy class. During this dedicated time, teachers work with students both collectively and individually to help them set realistic goals, reflect upon their progress, collect artifacts for their portfolios, and prepare for the conference. Students use the following guidelines to help them in their preparations:

  • Students will self-assess their progress based on learning goals.
  • Each student will have a new learning goal every nine weeks and measure their accomplishment on the previous goal.
  • Each student keeps graded artifacts in the appropriate binder or the student work folder.
  • Students complete self-evaluation checklists for each academic class. They reflect on their progress and the areas in which they need to improve.
  • Students will be coached on ways to share goals and strategies to obtain these goals with their parent or guardian.
  • Students will write a formal invitation to their parents to invite them to the student-led conference.
  • Students write a formal thank-you note to their parents for attending the student-led conference.

Student-Led Success

The conferences and portfolios have helped to tell a story of student growth and discovery. The journey of preparing for and participating in these student-led conferences have brought students greater awareness of their personal and academic strengths and of the areas where they need to improve. Parents appreciate hearing directly from their children about their academic progress and love to listen to their children discuss what they are learning in each subject. Teachers appreciate seeing students take responsibility for their learning and find that the experience helps students be more engaged learners throughout the school year.

How does your school help students take ownership of their own learning? 

Mike King is principal of Dodge City Middle School in Dodge City, KS. During his 38-year career in education, he was named a 2012 NASSP National Digital Principal of the Year, and his schools have been recognized with numerous awards, including the Medal of Excellence, designation as an Oklahoma National Blue Ribbon School, and various Kansas educational honors. Mike is committed to advancing learning with technology and firmly believes that digital tools can help students unleash their creativity and construct knowledge.

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