As you probably know, I’m a little bit interested in Project Based Learning at the moment and as such I have designed all of my programs using key elements of this pedagogy. There have been some serious challenges and some serious successes. In this post I am going to briefly outline an activity that I (hope) will turn out to be one of the success stories.
As all NSW high school teachers know, teaching Preliminary courses are tough to teach, simply because the model of motivation we have in the current system is ‘Succeed or Fail in the HSC’. A direct consequence of this model is student awareness of a task or work ‘counting’ – surely you’ve heard it ‘Does this count towards my HSC, Miss?’ Teacher’s answer – ‘Well, technically ‘no’, but the skills and knowledge you gain from this course will significantly contribute to the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the HSC course.’ What does this student hear? ‘No – this doesn’t count. Just sit there and stare out the window, turn your brain on again in three terms when it IS the HSC.’
And there is the conundrum – teacher see the relevance of the Prelim course (do they?) but the students don’t.
My Preliminary struggle this year is with Year 11 Standard English. I have a wonderful class of funny and friendly students who – for the most part – have never particularly enjoyed English for a variety of different reasons. We’re studying conflict, and as you might know from a previous post, our driving question for this unit is – What are the consequences of encountering conflict in our lives?
In class we have done a variety of different tasks from evaluating a poem and a short story, writing creative pieces and writing mini-essays. Not very inspired tasks but we’re getting there – just passing time getting to know one another and our individual/collective strengths and weaknesses. I introduced a PBL-style possibility (taking what we learn about the consequences of conflict and transforming it into a new text for a new audience – such as students at a local primary school) which we will put into practice in a week or two.
BUT a task that I devised as a means to give my students an ‘authentic audience’ for their analysis of a related text (they need a couple for our Area of Study) really got them thinking in new and creative ways – they were problem solving on their feet! I’m sure you’ve done this before, but if not I think you should! I divided my class in two (two largish groups of 9 students) and had them read, analyse and evaluate a text (picture book or feature article) and then transform this ‘knowledge’ into a lesson plan for the Advanced English class. Remember, my students are the ‘Standard’ class. This was a daunting task – I gave them 3 periods to prepare!
Long story short – my kids shone on the day! Both groups got a kick out of ‘teaching’ what they perceive to be the ‘smarter’ classes – and they HAD to learn themselves in order to be good teachers! It was so cool seeing them answer some rather tricky questions and confidently deliver their own analysis of the text they had studied. It was a proud day for me – and even better when one of my students said, ‘Wow, being a teacher is hard. But it’s kinda fun.’
Have you tried getting your students to be teachers for a day?