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I think it's very important because they really do a better job when they care about the learning. I teach 11th grade American Lit. Before reading Gatsby, I asked my students to research one topic of their choosing but it had to be an event or a person who was important or influential during the time period 1900 to 1920. They did a research paper as well as a presentation to the class. Our topics ranged from movies, to sports, to high-profile unsolved murders, to fashion, to entrepreneurs. It was really wonderful and much better than the previous semester when I chose their topics for them. Nobody cared and nobody did well.
Such a good question. I agree with Linda. Be aware of your standards and of what your district requires. But that is where the art of teaching comes in. The standards tell you what students should know and be able to do, but not how they have to demonstrate the skills. Make sure to design lessons that give students freedom where you can, but also scaffold and guide them to achieving mastery of the required skills.
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