My passion behind this research project stems from my own experience as a high-achieving yet rarely academically challenged student. I wanted to create a unit of study with the lofty goal of challenging my highest achieving students, while still engaging the entire class. I never wanted to single any student out, or create a unit that was impossible for some to achieve success with. Keeping all of these aims in mind, I set out to implement a unit of study in 8th grade social studies focused around the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and having the students create and play their very own board games.
When devising this unit, I wanted to alter my teaching methods to see if this intervention was more or less successful than my everyday approach. My ultimate goal was for my students to create something artistic and kinaesthetic at the end of the unit to showcase their learning, as opposed to using a more traditional, summative exam. Therefore, I settled on a student-led and project-based unit modelled loosely after the gradual release model, with a board game as the culminating project.
The data I obtained came in both qualitative surveys and conversations with students, and in the form of rubrics for the various assessments. What I discovered, compared with the exam scores from the previous academic year, truly shocked me. My class average summative score during the intervention was nearly 85%. According to Thomas R. Guskey and others in the field of academics, 80% on an assessment is considered “mastery”. The previous year, with a traditional end-of-unit test, my class average was 77%. I also learned that my lowest-achieving students made some of the greatest gains in the class, though all students, including the high-achievers, showed growth.
These findings, combined with the positive feedback from the student surveys, encouraged me to think more broadly about what student-led learning can look like in the classroom, and to use it as an additional teaching tool. I also was enthusiastic about the results of the project and will be seeking further ways to challenge all learners and their varied learning styles through diverse means in the future.
KEY WORDS: gifted and talented; exceptional learners; creativity; arts education; middle school; Student-led learning; project-based learning, motivation; aptitude; kinaesthetic learning.
RESEARCHER: Amanda Korsell Brown;
Link to Conference presentation pptx: