Allowing for Student Exploration in 2017

Allowing for Student Exploration in 2017

Dream and innovate.

Each of these verbs are goals that I set for my students as 2017 comes knocking. My students, as I’m sure some of yours, grow weary of the status quo question and answer approach after reading a piece of text.

These goals grow even more complicated because, as educators, it has become mandatory for us to focus on the upcoming state standardized test in our current educational landscape.

However, state test scores do not tell the entire story. As facilitator and editor-in-chief of my students’ success, it is necessary to ensure students feel there is value in their education. This article is my attempt to and share these values with my colleagues on how I’ve learned to best meet those needs.


Each January, I poll students by asking them to identify their own dreams for the new year as well as 10 years down the road. Knowing their passion and where they want to go at a young age allows me to expose them to new opportunities. For instance, the large number of students who dream of being a professional athlete are often not in the small percentage of those who actually make it into the professional ranks. However, there is still a passion for sports which can be recognized and harnessed into exploring a potential career.

For example, a sports fanatic can explore becoming an athletic training, sports writer, or sports information director at a college or university. To allow them to identify experience their dream, opens up an opportunity to speak with our high school athletic trainer about the profession – seeking pros and cons. In addition, I can also use professional connections to set up a Skype meeting with a former colleague of mine who works as a professional sports announcer and writer. The activity begins with creating a bank of questions about the profession – not the glory of being around professional athletes or knowing them – which we practice prior to the real Skype conversation. Furthermore, I can often set up a visit to a local university and speak with a sports information director as well as the graduate assistants working in their office. My best experience includes attending a sporting event to allow students to see someone doing the job they are exploring.

To capstone the experience, I challenge students to take their dream and make an artifact to display their path to achieving their dream. For example, students who are wired for the 21st century are already immersed in social media (e.g., Instagram). Therefore, I instruct students to create a timeline using Instagram showing different life moments (e.g., graduating high school, taking SAT, first internship, shaking hands with professional in the field, earning first job, being accepted into master’s program). It is simply a visual map to reinforce their dream, and they get to be as creative as they wish. To submit the project, students must submit their own personalized hashtag, so I can search for each project on Instagram.


Informational and argumentative texts are a large part of my curriculum. Students explore texts from many sources as well as current events with an emphasis on opinion editorials. Each text offers a unique opportunity for students to identify the author’s purpose of the text and challenges the students to view the world on a larger scale. Incorporating and supporting the state standards in the manner in which they are assessed is up to the teacher.

Suggestion: Students are and have already been creators of media using all sorts of technology, but often forced to power down during school hours. Instead, open a charging station in your room, incorporate the technology into your curriculum, and take a risk to train and trust students to use their devices for educational purposes.

Challenging your own willingness to bring innovation brings new norms into the classroom. Every students attending school in the current educational landscape should have completed a green screen production before matriculating. It offers a chance for those multiple choice and writing student experts in your classroom to become uncomfortable and those students with other talents to excel with creativity. Both sets of students are better for their participation, regardless of their success or failure.

One example of green screen projects is allowing students to develop a newscast reporting the author’s purpose (RI6) behind multiple informational texts on a similar topic – similar to a research simulation task found on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Assessment. Teamwork and collaboration to layout the production prior to its creation is a valuable process to teach students, which can go beyond the classroom, and developing the actual production supports many writing standards (W2, W4, W6). The simple premise of the green screen projects can be replicated and modified to meet the needs of numerous standards.

Take a Risk

It is tempting to take the easy route when planning your first month of instruction back in 2017. However, kids deserve the best we can offer them. Giving them a chance to dream and innovate, using technology they are already comfortable using, can and will change and improve the trajectory of their educational endeavors; don’t wait any longer.

Brian Cook, Ed.D., is an English Language Arts teacher at Pocomoke Middle School in Worcester County Public Schools in Maryland. He is a 2106 ASCD Emerging Leader. Connect with Cook on Twitter @drbriancook.