A great lesson ruined by a faux pas

Today I tweeted this:

But before I tell you why, I will first outline my lesson.

My students were asked to sit in a campfire arrangement with me and the IWB as their focal point. On the IWB I had our Young Inquirers edmodo group displayed. I explained to them that we were about to embark on a new PBL journey and that they would be given their Driving Question (DQ) this lesson. I wanted to ensure that they had each developed their own personal response to the DQ before they met with their group and considered the parameters of the project. I labeled this unmediated response to the DQ their ‘hypothesis’  (an idea borrowed from my prac student @laurenforner).

Students each devised their own hypothesis responding to the DQ ‘What makes an individual powerful?’ and posted it to the ‘wall’ of their edmodo group. These responses popped up in-real-time on the IWB for all the class to see. We had a great chat about the varying ideas posed regarding what it is that makes an individual powerful. These kids are insightful. They understand power.

I then handed out a copy of the assessment task aligned with this project. I blogged about it yesterday, see here. The students were intrigued by the year-group wide competition element of the task and I explained that this task would require them to work in design teams.

I have recently been very inspired by the Gamification group on edmodo and their discussions about using a gaming structure to engage students and power their learning more in the formative stage. At first I was resistant to this edu buzz-word, and despite having used a competition table element in my last PBL project with Year 10, I still didn’t see myself as falling for the fad. I resisted referring to the points by the gaming term XP (short for ‘experience points) but have found myself won over by the passion and innovative ideas of the Gamification group members. I think that the fact that edmodo introduced badges for students is also a VERY big draw-card for me. The fact that I can create badges (or use those shared by teachers in the edmodo community) makes it heaps more exciting for me. I know my students are going to LOVE being awarded badges – it’s going to make it more competitive in that the students are competing with themselves, not just each other. I haven’t got to the stage of ‘levelling up’ yet – but XP points are there. I told my students that during the project each individual would be able to earn a certain number of XP points for classroom behaviours (skills) and for mastery of content. When they reach a specified number of XP for a skill or content mastery, they are awarded a badge relevant to that skill or content. At the end of the project, the design team with the most XP total, wins a special lunch. Let me tell you – my class was stoked on the idea!

So, it came to the time to tell the students what design team they were in. I had selected the design teams based on a couple of reasons. And I told them what these reasons were.

And this is when my faux pas occurs…

I created the groups based on ability level and gender. The latter is a non-issue. The last two projects had been mixed gender and mixed ability groups. The students worked well in these groups after a little bit of jousting to start with … personalities are such a fun thing to play with in a class room! The decision to create ability level groups was based on our text: Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There really are very different ways in which students can access the work of Shakespeare. I feel that teaching his plays requires differentiation. From my six years of teaching Shakespeare, I know that ALL students can access and appreciate Shakespeare’s plays – to some extent. I also know that if you stick with a teacher-centred one-level approach to teaching Shakespeare that the more capable students miss out on his language, rhythm, subtle nuances etc. They get stuck with a plot, character, theme study. The weaker students get drowned by the language and teacher-talk.

Differentiating PBL groups when tackling Shakespeare is straight-up genius in my mind.

Telling the kids that I differentiated the groups … just plain foolish.

Immediately the boys placed in the ‘lower’ group showed signs of embarrassment. They disengaged in the next task that required them to pick a team name. I felt like they wanted to hit me in the face. And why shouldn’t they feel that way? I tried my hardest to explain to them that they’d be OK – it would benefit them. I explained that the group choice was more about organisation than skill – they had more stuff going on at home than other kids. But really I was just saying ‘blah, blah, blah’. All they heard me saying was ‘I think you’re dumb’.

I’m going to be working hard to overcome this hurdle. Getting hit down like that in front of your peers is really hard to come back from.

I’ll keep you posted.

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10 thoughts on “A great lesson ruined by a faux pas

  1. I can see why you feel the way that you do – nobody wants to make their students feel less about themselves, but I think you need to remember that you have given them an opportunity to show what they know in that group. Instinctively they would have worked out the configurations of the group. You are such a caring, generous and giving teacher that I can’t help but think you might be feeling worse about what has happened, than the students. They can be quite resilient. In any case, I think that deep down, they would temper today’s experience with all of the amazing learning opportunities that you have given them and the confidence that you inspire in them.
    Don’t you just love those humbling experiences that reveal our humanity to the rest of the world?? 🙂

  2. Another honest post, Bianca. Good stuff!

    I am so passionately against ‘streaming’ at school. Advances in neuroscience, common sense, equity and decency all tell us it is wrong. It is ‘the factory’ and, I am sure you know that the first uses of IQ testing were to sort out soldiers in WWI into NCOs and others. Kinda telling that, on a number of levels.

    • I feel a little like I’ve made a mini-stream in my class … ala Orwell’s Mini-Pax. I didn’t mean to have a ‘streaming’ effect, rather I want to ensure that each students gets the most out of their experience with Shakespeare.
      Perhaps I am wrong, but I can’t see that it benefits a student to not have work targeting their capacity … PBL by its very nature is contructivist, there are no limitations on what the students can learn, do, create … the groups are not arbitrary. They were meant more as a ‘we can do this let’s kick butt’ sorta thing.
      Naive I guess.
      I’m still learning.
      Thanks for the comment Darcy.

  3. could the students prepare some of the work in their current pbl groups and then create a jigsaw activity where they become the representative of their group and provide expertise in their new group. when they return to their original pbl group they may feel a little better about their ability to contribute. I love the responsibility and feeling of satisfaction that comes with jigsaw type activities. P

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Paul. Yeah – I guess that could happen. The only problem would be what the lower ability group could contribute to the extension group … does that make sense? Although the plan is that they would each look at something different … hmmm. I want each group to contribute to a class-created website about Shakespeare so this could work for that task. OK, I will add it to the ‘to do’ list. Thanks!

  4. I love this reflection. I wish every teacher thought about their actions and decisions like this. Hell I wish I did. Aim: more reflection. Perhaps I should actually do something to reflect upon, like the great tasks you have established.

  5. Great reflection B! I think we’ve all had an experience like this at some point. Maybe an equalising task might be useful? We sometimes pick sports/activities in PE that very few students (if any) have too much experience with to level out the playing field – no pun intended. For example, a hybrid activity or more unusual game i.e. pateka, soft-crosse. Great for boosting confidence and moving everyone out of their comfort zone for a little while. Looking forward to hearing more – always appreciate your honesty and dedication to innovative teaching 🙂

  6. Pingback: Gamified Macbeth PBL – a reflection « Bianca's Blog

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