I read this article recently that talks about 20% time. It means giving students 20% of your class time to work on a project that they want to work on. It’s unstructured time for them to explore more deeply in your subject area with you to be there as more of a guide instead of the direct instructor. I read about the benefits here and I completely agree. I think this is such a great idea because it motivates students and engages them in your subject on a different level. It teaches them how to self-regulate and drives their curiosity. I think it also allows for more wide-reaching lessons because the topics they investigate for themselves will reach far beyond what you would cover in class, including into other subject areas.

Currently, I’m trying an experiment in class by giving the students a very open-ended final project. I have noticed already what a difference it has made for their motivation during a time of year when most students just shut down. Students are being more creative and involved than ever and as a teacher I feel more interested at the same time because I can see that they’re enjoying themselves more than if I just assigned a project.

I want to take this a step further next year by integrating 20% time on a weekly, if not daily basis. I think that I could apply it to various topics within my content area that I can give students a general basis for allowing them to guide their own learning. For example, we need to discuss cultural topics and what better way to guide the class than by having the students select topics and then present through a medium of their choice to their peers? This can be done in groups or individually, it can be a small activity or a large project, it can be reflected upon and written about, it can be revised and reworked, and it can personalize the experience of every student. Imagine revamping the classroom atmosphere because students will know that they are in charge, in essence. I picture having students moving around the room, collaborating, also working individually, and coming up with great ways of researching and presenting about things that they want. When they are responsible for the learning they try harder, because they know their peers are grading them. When they see my excitement for their learning and for my own learning through them, they also try harder because they feel more accountable. I think this blows traditional instruction out of the water. It’s a simple concept, but how many teachers are willing to give up that 20%?

Of course there must be some standards to follow and again this is a bit experimental, but after this first project I think I will have a better grasp on how to handle this teaching strategy. Something important is checking in with students on their work and giving them feedback frequently. Instead of just letting them go on their own the teacher must be there to work with the students and monitor their progress. On my rubric for the project I give points for the planning, the development, and the final product so that students know whether they’re on the right track or not. I give some ideas at first, but I also allow students to talk through their ideas with me.

I enjoy being more of a devil’s advocate than a know-it-all authoritarian. Students have the freedom to explore and try new things if I think they can succeed in ways I have never seen before. In this way, my job as a teacher has become much more interesting because I also partake in the learning. For all of these reasons, I will strive to change the paradigm in my classroom by giving students their 20%.