At the end of last term I was very tired. Well, I seem to always be tired these days. It could be the low-iron vegetarian diet or it could be my lack of sleep or it could be that I seem to work constantly. Regardless of the reason, at the end of last term I was tired. I was so tired that I almost taught a topic from the front of the classroom and with worksheets. Almost. I didn’t because I couldn’t. Instead, encouraged by hubby Lee, I gave Punk Learning a go. You can read about it here. I was pretty unsure of the success of that approach with Year 9 by the very end of the term. After I introduced them to SOLO taxonomy, they all self-assessed using the four different dimensions and most identified themselves as at the unistructural or multistructural level of understanding about Shaun Tan – that’s the guy they were studying.
I thought to myself, ‘Holy shit! These kids aren’t learning anything. What am I going to do?’ Well my answer to that was to do nothing much. Why? Well it was the end of the term and I figured we’d just start fresh next term with a different topic (sound familiar? yeah, it’s what most teachers do.) Anyway, there was a problem with this. I had already asked my son’s teacher if my students could present their learning about Shaun Tan to his students. My students even wrote persuasive emails to Mr Smith asking if they could pretty please present to his class. I forwarded these emails to Mr Smith, he agreed for them to come and a date and time was set. Holy crap! We were committed to presenting to Mr Smith’s year 5/6 class – the class of which my son is a member!
Understandably, I was a bit worried about how the day would turn out. We have five different groups who all wanted to present something different about Shaun Tan. When school resumed for Term 2, we had a class discussion about the running order for the event – we had about an hour to fill – and then we realised one student had left the school and she was a big part of one team. Argh! Amazingly, my class rose to the challenge and all agreed to help out – phew!
I typed up a running order and when the day came, my whole class turned up at the beginning of recess so we could head to the primary school next door where we were to present. One student even came even though he had broken his finger the afternoon before – he didn’t want to let us down! When we got to the primary school we found the Year 5/6 class waiting for us in the school hall. My students looks nervous, but I joked around with them and putting on a brave face, we headed into the fray! Each team got up and presented their stuff – the biography of Shaun Tan, his distinctive style as an illustrator and author, a close reading of the picture book The Rabbits and a discussion about the importance of imagination. My students were really great at making the presentations interactive by asking questions, praising students and rewarding them with lollies. The Year 5/6 class were super polite and engaged in the presentations. They were the perfect audience! I cheered a lot and smiled until my cheeks hurt.
At the end of the presentations the Year 9 students ran drama activities with the Year 5/6 students and these were crazy fun. At first Year 9 were a bit ‘too cool’ to play and improvise, but eventually they were running around pretending they were being attacked by deadly rainbows and then dressing up in silly costumes. I too was standing up on chairs trying to escape the deadly lava! The event ended with small teams of Year 9 and Year 5/6 students presenting improvised role-plays to the rest of the students. It was really fun watching the older students relax and play with the younger students. The best part was seeing students, who are usually reticent to join in group activities, just having fun and enjoying themselves.
I have to admit, I thought the ‘Shaun Tan Workshop’ might have been a flop, but my students really did impress me with what they knew about Shaun Tan and their ability to apply what they learnt to a new context. I don’t think any of the students will be forgetting that experience any time soon. This project reinforces to me the significance of a public audience – it really does ‘up the stakes’ for students and gives them an opportunity to see themselves as learners with knowledge to share with others. I am very thankful that Mr Smith kindly gave up some of his students’ time so as that my students had a great public audience for their project. He was really fun and relaxed which helped my students to relax also.
And to think, those projects were all planned entirely by my Year 9 students with no input from me! Punk Learning – with a bit of trust, freedom and responsible risk-taking – maybe it works?