5Q’s Version of “Twenty Percent Time”

It’s Friday in Gene Quezada’s 5th grade classroom and kids are engrossed in learning. Not to say that his students are not engrossed in learning Monday through Thursday, it’s just that this learning is something that each student has chosen. Fridays in 5Q are referred to as Choice Time.

Gene started having Fridays as choice time three years ago as a way of giving his students more say in how they used their time and energy to learn. The elementary school at AES had just implemented a Home Learning policy where students do not have “one size fits all” homework, but are encouraged to follow their passions while at home. The school was also two years into the adoption of a behavior philosophy called Restitution that asks students and adults to learn to understand why they make the choices they make based on basic needs that all people have in common. Gene had also read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, where the concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose are explored to support the author’s premise that we are all intrinsically motivated to learn and contribute to our communities. Gene showed his students this video of Daniel Pink speaking about his book.

The reasons why Gene has restructured his school week to incorporate more student choice supports the how and what a Friday looks like in his classroom. Gene shared that, “If we believe that kids should be responsible, then we should give them time to exercise choice in their learning. If we choose for them, then they can never be responsible for their own learning. If we believe kids should follow their passions then shouldn’t we give them time to follow their passions?” Gene also believes that time and space need to be provided in order for school and learning to be more than what the teacher says it is for the nine or ten months they are together.

Structure and reflection are necessary for this choice time to work. When Mr Q. asks his students to choose something that they want to investigate and explore, he has them ask themselves questions and work through a modified thinking routine called Think-Puzzle-Explore. Questions such as:

What do you think you know about . . . . ?
What puzzles you about . . .
What do you want to know . . .
What are you going to try to do . . .
How are you going to find help  . . .
What is your goal for today . . . .
How did it go? What’s your goal for the next session . . .

Gene realizes that students will change their topic several times during the initial month, but he finds that most students settle into a topic soon after and embrace it for the remainder of the school year. He has discovered that a timeline with due dates is important for students to have success and having those parameters gives students a framework within to be creative.

Technology is not the driving force for these choice time projects, but it does play a role in supporting the students and their work. Gene commented on the use of technology with this year’s class and said,  “This year a couple kids are creating a blog to share information about their topic, another is making a digital painting, and one other student is making a stop motion animation movie. However, many students are working with their hands to build and create things and use technology to document their work.”

Here is a blog post by a teacher in the UK who has implemented 20% Time in his elementary classroom. Check out this other site by a teacher who gives examples of how 20% time is used in high school classrooms.

Other teachers at AES have explored the idea of giving kids more choice and the opportunity to follow passions during the school day. Talk with Karen Snyder about the book, The Passion Driven Classroom, and how it mirrors the philosophy of 20% time. Spend some time on the blog by the author, Angela Maiers to learn more.

This year, some of the passions being followed in 5Q’s class are creating cookbooks, creating toys to be sold for charity, writing a How to Play Minecraft book, and writing a book of pranks, practical jokes and other misfit, just to name a few. Gene admits that it is hard to always trust that students will do what needs to be done, but he recognizes that “sometimes they just need time to do what they need to do.”

What are your thoughts about implementing something like 20% time in your classroom? How might this work in a grade level team? How does having access to iPads and other tech devices along with software, such as Evernote and Explain Everything, change a choice time scenario? What would the effects be if it was taken on by the elementary or K-12 for that matter? Please add your comments and get the conversation going.

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