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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Transforming Learning Through Student Content Creation

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This is a guest post from Adam Schoenbart.

Students must create. That’s my big epiphany this year. Learning is better, more fun, and more memorable when you make something that lasts.

I used to spend hours carefully grading and commenting on student work, only to have my feedback lost in the black hole of their backpacks. Sure, my students left class with new learning and skills, but my comments were left crumpled and ignored, and my assessments lost meaning. In the past two years, a lot has changed in my classroom because I realized the transformative power of Google Apps for Education. With Google Communities, students could now participate in conversations that extended beyond the classroom and period. Classes could research, share, write, and revise seamlessly. Students’ learning was in their own hands; instead of the Jedi master instructing young padawans, we learned together.

I thought this would solve my earlier woes, but somehow Google Drive’s organization didn’t work for some students. Instead of losing the work in their backpacks, they misplaced untitled documents, ignored online comments, or even worse, moved files to Trash. I knew I had a problem that technology alone couldn’t solve. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” I knew I had do better to engage students in the process of learning and make the products matter, in and out of my classroom.

Inspired by ideas like project based learning and #20Time, I decided to take a stand against “Google-able questions.” Instead of students only finding information and curating content, they needed to create the learning for themselves. Our students live in a world of Web 2.0, social media, and content creation, and I needed to bring this into their learning.

And together, we did. Halfway through this school year, I explained that we will no longer produce work that is forgettable and can be left in a backpack. Instead, we will create content that we can be proud of, will remember, and will help each other learn. I wanted to push students to develop more meaningful and diverse skills to prepare them for their futures by creating work that matters to them. To do this, we needed to produce for an audience; all learning was now public to the world. Suddenly, the learning was visible, the technology was more purposeful and complex, and class was more fun. Students’ work wasn’t hidden in their notebooks, but shared, produced, and even live-streamed, like the argument videos below.



It was a big and challenging shift at first. I gave my students self-directed time and freedom to play with and practice a variety a Web 2.0 tools, which they used to present a synthesis argument assignment. Then, they applied these skills to book review projects, creating audio or visual book reviews and trailers. I had more fun watching these than anything else this year. Find all of the results here with some highlights in Yoo Shin’s infographic, Elliot’s EMaze, and Gabby’s Divergent trailer (below), which made me laugh.


In my classroom, creation is the future. Students are learning more, developing new skills, and having more fun. It also forced me to step back and put the trust in my students’ hands. And so far, most rose to the challenge. As we end the school year, students are wrapping up #20Time Projects, which I hope will celebrate the success of student choice, voice, and creation. Reflecting back, I look towards summer with pride, hope, and excitement for the positive impact that creation has brought to my students’ learning. And I can’t wait to do better next year.

Adam Schoenbart is a high school English teacher, Google Education Trainer, and EdD candidate in Educational Leadership. He teaches grades 10-12 in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom at Ossining High School in Westchester County, NY. His work and teaching focuses on best practices of educational technology for active student-centered learning and engagement. Adam received the 2014 LHRIC Teacher Pioneer Award and is a frequent conference presenter in the NY/NJ area. He is the co-creator of the crowdsourced #edtech events calendar, EdTechCalNYNJ, and he blogs about his work and teaching at The SchoenBlog. Connect with Adam on Twitter @MrSchoenbart to continue the conversation.