What if students prescribed their own learning one day or one hour per week?

What if the traditional school schedule or "classroom" looked different for one day or one hour a week?

Photo of Britta Wilk McKenna
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Students love it when you take them outside to read under a tree or when they get a choice of activities or topics to explore.  What if there was a designated day of the week (or month or quarter) or hour they can plan to do this?  (Educational version of 20% time) What would happen if we put students in charge of learning what they wanted to know and teachers would coach them along and point them in the right direction instead of being the SME? What if these same students who are teaching themselves something they want to know turn around and teach others (and yes, gulp, even the teachers) what they've learned?  How can a school set aside time for this and still meet everything else they have to get done in the year?  Set aside the time and see what happens...and invite parents and community members to be resources on these days as well.  Hack the school day and flip learning to see what happens.

How can a minor disruption in the schedule promote student autonomy, mastery and purpose?  

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Photo of Christina Parker-Carter

This is one of my favorite ideas and I'm glad it was moved to the Evolve stage. Encouraging greater student input will lead to higher levels of engagement. Teachers would need to understand the need of flexibility of the 20% time based and grade level, subject etc.; adjusting accordingly.

Since teaching and instructions tend to be so focused on standards and prescribed learning goals, one way to help ensure teacher buy in is to show teachers have to connect student's selected learning topics/ ideas with required standards.

Provide some structure and routine; limited,not to stifle.

Determine how the 20% (+/-) fits in to mandated instructional minutes. The time could be added to already scheduled activities and routines such as daily journal writing, "Do Now", exit tickets.

Photo of Britta Wilk McKenna

Christina, thanks for the feedback. Remember that 20% time is not pushing the "easy button" for teachers, it rather makes them help students explore the areas they'd like to explore within education and coach them to find the best resources. When students prescribe their own learning, they are much more diligent in their work and teachers need to stand back and get out of their way in many cases (from past experience). I find that I don't have to be the SME, but rather one step ahead of the student, helping find the needed resources within my network.

I've taken some of these ideas and pushed the thinking into what a day or hour with a substitute could look like (create these types of conditions on a day when the regular teacher is absent). It could turn a sub day into an innovation day if set up properly.

Photo of Meg Krause


Congrats on making it to the Evolve phase. I would love to join your team as I have been noodling on this idea of 20% time in schools for quite a while. Of course, the big question seems to be "what gives" in the school day or week? However, maybe we don't even have to think about that right now as the prototyping step is about thinking positive- not being limited by what ifs.

Here are our instructions / possibilities for Evolve:
Create a Story — Tell the story of your idea from the future. Describe what the experience would be like. Describe the idea as if it were being published on your school’s website.
Role Play — Act out the experience of your idea with your colleagues or even students.
Storyboard — Visualize the complete experience of your idea over time through a series of images, sketches, or cartoons. Stick figures are allowed!
Create a Diagram — Map out the structure of your idea. Show its journey or the process behind it.

I like the idea of describing the idea as if it were being published on your school’s website.

What are your thoughts?


Photo of Niranjan Vasireddy

Promote student autonomy, mastery and purpose - Daniel Pink way. I like it. I think we should also have them present what they have done during this free time like the company Atlassian the does it (as mentioned in Daniel Pink's Drive Ted Talk). Taking inspiration from Atlassian - we could probably ask the school to give up 1 day a quarter - so the idea can develop and get the buy in from the community. Once day a week I think is a bit more ambitious and one hr a week may be too small to see any substantial results.

Photo of Heather Best

Ahh! I just wrote about student choice in another post. I couldn't agree more with this idea.

Photo of Elysa Fenenbock

Love the idea of inviting the community as a resource/audience for this. I wonder if there is also an opportunity to engage/share with other schools and districts with this format?