One strong example of student self-direction with the teacher serving in a supportive, oversight role comes from Diane Dean, a teacher at Lake Okoboji High School in Milford, Iowa. Dean encouraged the students in her speech class to develop a project for the Iowa Sesquicentennial celebration. The students chose to produce a videotape documenting the history of their community with a focus on the schools.
The students worked in groups based on their interests and abilities. They were responsible for developing all aspects of the video. The students decided who to interview and what questions to ask, spliced and edited the videotape, selected background music, and produced the final product.
Dean worked to foster problem-solving and decision-making skills in her students by allowing them to make all the decisions and plan their documentary with guidance, not directives, from her. The storyboard they developed, the letter they sent to people they might interview, and the release form they sent to a record company for permission to use material, are all examples of the problems the students had to grapple with.
When their videotape, titled Our School - Our Sense of Place, was completed, the students shared it with the Milford community throughout the summer by displaying it at Iowa Sesquicentennial celebrations.
In a project summary compiled when the videotape was completed, Dean summarized the goal of the project, the desired outcomes, and the strategies that were used by the students as they worked on the activity. She also completed an outline which relates all the steps the students needed to take and the obstacles they had to overcome in order to complete their documentary.
While it was not easy for Dean to allow her students to work through the project without telling them how to do it, the most revealing sign of the impact she had on the project is the acknowledgment the students made at the end of the video. "We especially want to thank Mrs. Dean," the students said, "for putting up with us and letting us lead ourselves through this project."