This question was buzzing and thrashing through my mind all weekend thanks to the ‘honesty’ of my Year 8 class. They are a great bunch of kids but I have the most unfortunate timetable with them – I see them first period and last period on a Monday, then I don’t see them again until second last period on a Thursday and right before lunch on a Friday. Let’s face it, that’s a tough timetable to have a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds.
Last week I introduced them to our latest project. The ‘hook’ lesson was heaps of fun, involving the students getting outside to do some improv skits in our little makeshift amphitheatre. The students really enjoyed the activities and started thinking about what makes people happy in life – happiness being the focus of the project. On Thursday I handed out the project outline (see below) and there was much uproar about the requirement to make videos and put them on YouTube. They just weren’t keen on the idea and felt like I was asking them to do something they didn’t want to do … they didn’t want to be ‘put on the Internet for the world to see’.
I must admit, at this point I got a little grumpy inside. I felt like my hard work had been ignored and that my students weren’t thinking about learning beyond the walls of the classroom. One student also questioned why we were doing a ‘PD’ topic in English – the driving question of the project being ‘What is true happiness?’. I just couldn’t understand why my class were being so negative about the project – a project that I thought they would be super excited by. But they weren’t. Humph.
I wasn’t in class on Friday so I left them some vids to watch about Shakespeare and the Tudors. That gave me the weekend to try and work out how to salvage the project – after all, I had carefully planned it so as that a whole bunch of syllabus outcomes were covered. I knew that through their responding and composing they would master heaps of new skills and cover required content. But I also want to do PBL the right way … where students are excited and involved and engaged with their learning. Not feeling like it’s just another boring project …
So yesterday I went into class armed with 30 copies of the English 7-10 syllabus, got my class to sit on the floor in a circle and we chatted about subject English – what is it, why do we do it. Then I showed them the syllabus and had them read through and highlight the outcomes that I had decided needed to be met by them by the end of the term. Admittedly this took a while and involved quite a bit of paraphrasing and explaining terminology etc – a syllabus is no easy document to read. Then I asked them this question: What project do YOU want to do that will help you meet these outcomes?
My students were well confused by this. OK, maybe they were more freaked out, especially since I ripped up a copy of my project and told them we wouldn’t be doing it anymore because it was MY project and not theirs. I must confess, I was just wishing they would scream, ‘Don’t do it, miss! Your project is awesome and so are you!’ but really they were just entertained and very curious. I sent them off in their project teams to design their own projects. The only two requirements was that they needed to include engagement/mastery of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the project had to ensure the selected outcomes are met.
To cut a long story short, by the end of last period yesterday, my students were excited about THEIR project. Some had modified aspects of my original project outline – using the DQ but changing the product. Others came up with their own DQ (preferring to focus on humour rather than happiness) and focused on different products and audiences – one group is now doing a series of joke books answering the driving question, ‘What makes you laugh?’.
My way of dealing with a failed project may not have been perfect (honestly it was perfectly frightening and we have now ‘lost’ two periods of class) but it has taught my students that being involved in the learning process and true engagement is hard but important. They can have a voice and choice in how they learn – it’s not enough to just do as you’re told.
Let’s see how their projects turn out …