The following blog post is part of a blog series called "Comments on the Common Core," written by Eye On Education's Senior Editor, Lauren Davis.
The Common Core State Standards aim to help students become independent learners and thinkers. Students should “become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials” (The Common Core State Standards, p. 7). Giving students questions with predetermined answers will not accomplish that goal. Instead, try to make your writing and research assignments more authentic and open-ended, so students can discover information on their own.
But what exactly is an open-ended assignment? It doesn’t mean asking students a subjective question and accepting all of their random opinions. In Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, Nancy Sulla gives a great example of what an open-ended assignment does and does not look like. First, she explains what an open-ended assignment is not.
A typical assignment found in elementary classrooms today is to write a report on dinosaurs. This simply requires students to locate and report back information with no open-ended aspect related to the content, and very little to the product. (Sulla, p. 25)
Asking students to find and report back information might be useful in some circumstances but will not promote students’ independent thinking skills.
Sulla then provides an example of a slightly better assignment that’s still not fully open-ended.
A teacher might assign a project in which students will create a dinosaur exhibit for a local museum with information on the various dinosaurs that once walked the earth. While this may sound like an engaging project, it is only slightly more open-ended than the first, with the open-endedness related more to the product than the content. (Sulla, p. 25)
In other words, that kind of project might seem fun for students because it involves art, but it’s not having them discover and learn content on their own.
Finally, Sulla gives an example of a real open-ended assignment.
A more open-ended problem would be to ask students to consider that scientists may be able to clone a dinosaur from DNA and wish to create a habitat in which it can live. The students would have to learn about the dinosaur and make plans to accommodate its needs, this providing a more open-ended challenge than the other two. (Sulla, p. 25)
The cloning assignment challenges students to think about content in different ways and apply knowledge, not just regurgitate it.
Open-ended assignments are trickier to create, but they will lead to higher levels of learning, and they will also increase engagement since students will feel responsible for their own learning.
If you’ve created an open-ended assignment for your students, write me a comment and tell me about it!
Check back on November 7 for Tips for Teaching Opinion Writing at the Elementary Grades
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