If you read my edu-dreams blog post earlier this year, you’ll know that one of my goals was to get a ‘rock-star’ to be the expert for at least one project this year. If you don’t know what I mean by a project ‘rock-star’ then you need to watch the BIE ‘Project-Based Learning: Explained’ video below:
I’ve facilitated so many projects in my English classroom now I’ve lost count and I reckon I’ve got heaps better at it through all of the fails, lol, but one of the things I hadn’t quite mastered was bringing in experts from outside of the school community. OK, that’s not 100% true: I have managed to bring a RedRoom poet to workshop poems with students, uber English teacher Paula Madigan has taught my students creative writing via video conference and journalists from our local paper have interviewed students about their passion project. That’s all been pretty sweet. Bringing experts from outside brings authenticity to a project, helps students to appreciate the meaning behind their learning and really amps up engagement levels. But the rock-star I bagged for my Year 10s got me jumping out of my skin with excitement.
A bit of back-story to help you understand my excitement …
My Year 10 class have been working on a poetry project answering the question: Can emos write poetry? I think I may have written about this project before. Anyway, below is the project outline given to my students, it should help you to understand the project a bit:
Now as you also may know, I’ve not been in class full-time this term which means I’m kinda like a virtual teacher. I spend the majority of my time ‘teaching’ via edmodo. During this emo project I saw my students a total of three full 50 minute periods. Everything else happened online. It really has been remarkable to see the work that these students have produced. If you haven’t read the poems set for the project (Auden’s Unknown Citizen, Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium and Elliot’s Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock) then I recommend you do – if not to appreciate the beauty of the poems at least to appreciate their complexity. All poems are basically Year 12 Advanced English material in my opinion. My class are Year 10 Extension students and I only spent one lesson ‘analysing’ the Yeats poem with 15 of the 28 students – the other 13 were on camp and I refused to halt the learning because of their absence, they simply had to catch up via their peers. Don’t tell the kids, but I still haven’t even read the Elliot poem – but boy have they nailed it!!
The essay … teaching essay-writing to Year 10 is always tough. You want them to own their ideas and develop their own writing style, but at the same time you want them to write in a particular structure, with a particular voice. Because I was teaching online, I made a series of YouTube videos to help my students master the basics of English essay-writing. I then set them the task of submitting a draft for feedback online via edmodo and I also asked them to have their essay peer and self-assessed using a check-list. I just finished marking the final version of their essays today and they have blown me away – so glad we’re going to publish them as an ebook to be made available online. All students have been given the option of resubmitting their essays until they get 100% based on teacher feedback.
The podcast … another tricky task. I’ve never made a podcast. I don’t know how to. I do know what they are and I’ve listened to quite a few. My students were working in teams – as always – so I figured they’d be savvy enough to use their collective brain and the web to find out how to make a podcast and do it. They didn’t let me down. It was cool to see so many different tools being used – adobe, audacity, garage-band – and the different formats for the podcasts that were created aswell – some were highly structured, some impromptu discussions, some serious and others humourous. The podcast is actually where I got my idea for our ROCK STAR … yes, I did get there eventually, lolz. I was pretty much inspired to create the emo project by my reading of the book Hey Nietzsche Leave Them Kids Alone by Craig Schuftan. It was a text recommended to me for teaching Romanticism to Extension English students. I remember listening to Craig Schuftan’s The Culture Club segment on Triple J when I was younger (teens or twenties, I’m not sure) and wishing so much that I had his job. I was so into indie rock music when I was a youngster that I even wrote and published my own fanzine called ‘catacomb’ that I distributed (via public transport) to music stores in the city. Craig made the music I loved intellectual and cultured, he understood what I loved about music and philosophy and wove them together. Reading his book inspired the emo project – bringing about the driving question and the final product, the podcast. I even directed my students to his podcasts as exemplars of what they could produce.
The rock-star … and then one day, out of the blue, I was followed on twitter by @schuftronic. I was thrilled to bits to see that this twitter ID belonged to Craig Schuftan! Actually I was jumping around like a school girl and my hubby told me I was a git, haha. At that moment I knew I had my rock-star … I just had to bag him! I waited a week before I followed him back (not to look too desperate) and then sent him a DM asking him to be our emo expert. I waited and waited and two weeks later got a reply telling me he was interested and to send him an email. How awesome is twitter? We emailed back and forth and came up with a date that suited us both – he was coming to Davo High! I must admit when I told my students they were like ‘who is he?’ to which I gushed about his radio segment and book and they thought I was a git too, lol.
The week arrived when Craig was to come to my school to be our rock-star and guess what I realised? I’d booked him to come on a day when I wasn’t teaching! Idiot! There was nothing to be done except prep my students via edmodo and lament my own disorganised brain. During the day of the podcast presentations I was an anxious mess, freaking out that the podcasts wouldn’t play or that the students would forget what they were meant to say. But it all ran so beautifully and I have never been more proud of a group of students … they were so great. My HT sent me a mini video of Craig greeting my English faculty colleagues and he asked Craig to sign a bit of paper to stick in my copy of his book – I’d left that at home too, duh! One of my students bought Craig a box of chocolates and my colleague got him a bottle of wine. I am so lucky to have an amazing teacher replacing me at school – it is her first year of teaching and she has had to deal with visiting authors and organising student presentations! We’re going to be putting the podcasts on iTunes soon, so I’ll post them up here when they’re on!
Finally, I just have to say a massive thank you to Craig Schuftan. Whilst I wasn’t there to meet him, I did get to hear so many wonderful accounts of his visit to our school. My students were stoked to hear him speak about his time at Triple J, his own answer to our driving question, his tips on producing podcasts and his feedback on each of the student teams’ presentations and podcasts. I discovered that he had taken public transport to get to our school – not an easy feat considering we have some seriously shocking, 1950s public transport out our way. He really was our rock-star for the day! In fact, I want to share with you a little post from one of my students about Craig:
This comment reminds me that getting an expert from outside your school community is not about the subject or the content or the project … it’s about the little bits of unexpected learning and wisdom that are gained.
Thanks so much for sharing your time with us, Craig. It blows me away that you asked for nothing in return … but we can give you this: thank you a thousand times!