Student Generated Study Guides

Having Students Create a Road Map for Their Learning

We began a new unit in history class this past week. In the past, I would dutifully prepare a study guide that included a long list of terms students must know in order to understand the content. I would instruct students to use this study guide to assist them with their reading notes and to use the provided questions to prepare for class discussions. For the most part, this worked. Students found these study guides helpful in assisting them with the reading as well as any tests or quizzes. However, there were always those who just didn’t seem to buy in.

“Why?” I wondered aloud to myself. “I had prepared a detailed road map that would guide them to success. Why travel off road and forge ahead on your own?”

It wasn’t until working on my TW this past summer that the realization occurred. The study guide illustrated that I was doing the discovery for my students, telling them what was important and what they needed to learn.

“Direction not directions” they always say in the GMWP. Was there a way to provide direction for my students but still allow them to discover?

Katie Crane’s TW on student driven vocabulary lists provided me with some answers. By having students generate their own vocabulary lists, they have control over what they want to learn. This process engages the student in the content and includes them in the designing of the unit.

So rather than handing out the study guide this past week, I began with a fifteen minute documentary titled The Fallen of World War II. The students wrote down comments, questions, and terms as they watched. The documentary focuses on the human cost of the second world war. In the past, I used it at the end of the unit. However, given the film’s coverage of the entire war and its visual representations of human loss, I thought it would engage students and begin to guide them in identifying the historical terms that would be necessary to understand this period in history.

Following the video, students shared as I recorded their thoughts and questions on the board. By the end of the period, we had a list of terms and questions students had about the causes of the war that looked like this:

People: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Generals Eisenhower and Patton, FDR

Battles: D Day, Okinawa, Pearl Harbor, Battle of the Bulge, Siege of Leningrad, Battle of Stalingrad, European Theater (western and eastern fronts), Pacific Theater

Questions: How did Hitler rise to power? Why did the Soviet Union enter the war? Why did the Soviets suffer so many casualties? Did the United States accept Jewish refugees? Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor?

It was a study guide. Student generated based on what they wanted to discover and explore.

Full disclosure, their study guide does not include all the required benchmarks they must meet throughout the course of the unit. I now need to determine other activities and prompts that will lend themselves to guiding the students through discovery. I plan to share these in upcoming posts. However, it is a start, and now I have an increased level of student engagement and interest as we begin this unit on World War II. The questions they posed regarding Hitler’s rise to power and the reasons for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor will transition well into a lesson on the leading causes of World War II. During that discussion every single one of my students contributed to the list on the board, helping to create a road map for their learning.