Working with students in 9th grade English, I often encounter students who really aren't interested in becoming better writers for the sake of becoming better writers, and I find it challenging, at times, to engage them in the writing process. Enter student Voice and Choice. What if we allow students to choose their research topics? Help them develop driving questions for their topics, and then turn them loose to dive into research? Along the way we can help guide them to credible sources, teach them how to recognize bias and craft arguments, and help them flesh out a legacy project that will develop out of their research.
At first students won't know what topic to choose, so we help them kickstart their brainstorming with a few prompts like:
"I've always wanted to learn about..."
"I would do . . . for free, even if nobody were watching."
"When I’m doing . . . , it’s as if I’m in a private world. Time flies."
"I wake up thinking about . . .
Then once they've chosen their topics, they set out to develop a driving question, gather resources, and dream up a legacy project that will demonstrate their learning and be passed on to an authentic audience as their summative assessment of learning. It's important that there is an authentic audience so that students can create their project/product/artifact with an audience in mind, and know that it will actually serve a purpose. Of course the teacher will help students choose standards and personal goals that the action research project will address, and co-create project timelines and rubrics for various stages of the project.
No matter the grade level, students can be very adept at co-creating authentic projects like this, and often times come up with insightful and complex ideas for what they choose to do and how they want to share their learning. We just have to relinquish a little control.