Youth Summit: Student-Driven Learning

Students will be encouraged to put themselves in the driver’s seat of their own education­­ to push themselves to be their own leader.

Imagine a teacher planning for tomorrow’s lesson, crafting a series of lessons for a unit of study, and designing an entire course of study. Think about how the teacher crafts engaging instructional strategies, redesigned the learning space to maximize interaction, and develops assessments to ensure understanding. Now imagine all of these tasks are not done by the teacher, but by the student. This ‘teacher’-‘student’ shift was exactly what occurred last month at the Youth Summit in School District of Waukesha.

The Youth Summit

District instructional leaders, Ryan Krohn and Jeffrey Taege, were inspired to design a student-driven learning program after attending the annual Youth Summit hosted by The Institute for Personalized Learning. The Institute’s Youth Summit positions students to think about learning, to design their ‘ideal school,’ and to understand the power of their voice, their learning, and their education.

Waukesha’s Youth Summit introduced students to the concept of personalized learning. Students had the opportunity to reflect on their own learning experience and hear from other students about what worked for them. As a team, students drafted a plan and presented ‘their ideal school/classroom’. In addition, students heard from teachers about how they are working to personalize learning in the classroom. The second half of the day, students and educators worked as a team to design the next lesson/unit of study. This planning is guided by the students as they consider the ideal vision of personalized learning and components that bring that vision to life.

After attending the Summit, the goal was to maximize this vision within a district and the entry point for this was ‘tomorrow’s lesson’.

Tomorrow’s Lesson

‘Tomorrow’s Lesson’ is one of those ‘accepted components’ of school that is 100% teacher-controlled. Teachers, or facilitators, are in control of the following:

  • What students will learn
  • How students will learn it
  • How student will show what they learned

As a result, students are positioned to be the ‘recipient’ of what the teacher determines to be the best course of action. But what if the student was a ’participant’ in this process?

The shift in thinking about how tomorrow’s lesson is crafted and unfolds creates a shift in thinking about who is in control of learning.

Teacher­Student or Facilitator­Learner

Turning over the lesson planning to the student is about as comfortable as tossing the keys to a 16 year old driver, but you don’t learn to drive without with being behind the wheel. The starting point for Waukesha’s Youth Summit was an invitation to all District teachers to bring a group of students and a willingness to turn over control. In messaging and promoting the event, we replaced ‘teacher­student’ with ‘facilitator­learner’ as a means to communicate a subtle but powerful message.

The intent of the Youth Summit and personalized learning is the simple shift in the roles of students and teachers.

The Shift

We intentionally withheld full information about the Summit from learners and facilitators prior to the event. The intent of limiting information was to level the playing field–we wanted facilitators and learners to engage in conversations like never before, so it was important that the style and delivery of professional development supported this idea. The foundational parts of the summit that set the tone for the day really turned everyone into a learner and built the foundation for equity and co­design to guide the rest of the day.

Our learners had the opportunity to participate in professional development. Never before had our learners seen the preparation and planning of the lesson design process. Our learners were also being asked to bring forth actionable ideas that they would take responsibility for developing and integrating into classrooms. Their ideas had to be purposeful, defendable, and engaging for their peers. Our learners quickly realized what a challenging task this can be.

It is important to note that this shift is not focused on just bringing in student voice. Its focus is developing learner commitment to education and learner agency. It is voice and choice with a level of newfound accountability from not only our learners but also our facilitators for all stakeholders.

The day after tomorrow’s lesson

A vision for personalized learning takes time to become sustainable across an entire system. As a result, The Youth Summit is just one of many differently leadership actions we are taking toward implementing personalized learning. The Youth Summit will continue, as we plan to run a number of future sessions as a means to include more facilitators and learners in the process.

Dr. Ryan Krohn is currently the Assistant Superintendent in the School District of Waukesha. Ryan’s work is centered on redesigning aspects of the current instruction­ based system into a system that is designed for learning.

Jeffrey Taege is one of the co­founders of the FLIGHT Academy and currently serves as the K­12 Personalized Learning Coordinator for the School District of Waukesha with a focus on scaling personalized learning and student agency across the district.


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