Is there a better year group to teach than year 8?

Look, I’m sure many of you reading this will have your own preferred year group to teach, but as a high school teacher I really have always loved teaching year 8. I think it’s because they are more confident than year 7 students, but still have the innocence and enthusiasm of the younger years. Last year I didn’t have a great year. In fact, I’d say that apart from my incredible year 12 class (the Bandits) and the introduction of Praxis, the year at school pretty much sucked. At the end of last year Lee told me that what I needed was a junior class that I could just have fun with, so I asked for one and got year 8 English. Bloody genius, my husband is!

So far this year I have run three projects with my year 8 class (who are just THE most fun, clever, creative young people you could ever have the pleasure of teaching). These projects include a Shakespeare project (we made a magazine for the library), a Belonging project (we made a blind date with a book display for parent/teacher night) and a Poetry project (students wrote poems and created a vlog or podcast for a display at the local library). Every project has helped us bond even more as a class. I’ve gotten to know my students strengths and weaknesses across the three projects, as well as their unique personalities and interests. Every day when I have year 8 I get excited – it’s so silly, but I just go into class smiling and leave smiling. They are just that joyous to be with.

Our current project is our most ambitious, and I am excited that the teachers of the three other year 8 classes will be doing the project with us! Below is a copy of our project  outline:PRAXIS 2018

To launch this project my students did some role-playing, pretending to be David Attenborough, and narrating the behaviours of made-up animals! This was riotous, we laughed so hard we nearly peed ourselves, legit!

The second lesson saw students identifying what they know and need to know, and we recorded a big list of their ‘need to know’ questions which will guide them through the project – they had to generate at least 5 each and then add them to a class Google Doc.

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We also created a project calendar which came entirely from the students ideas about how long they need to spend on each stage of the project. This will keep them focused, organised and able to manage the project. (I had two students type it up – this is a photo of me scribing their ideas on the whiteboard first.)

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The second-half of this lesson was spent outside. Students were given their teams (teams of three for this project as I have a class of 30 which means we will have 10 x 60 second docos made) and each team had to allocate a director, camera person and talent wrangler. I gave each the choice of one of 10 little toys (I have so many in my office because I am a child) and they had to use their phones to get examples of a range of shots, camera angles and camera movement techniques. They then uploaded these to their team Google Drive folder – some uses my hotspot and some airdropped their images to me.

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The following lesson I gave them a Google Slides template to showcase their knowledge of the definitions and purposes of each film device, and to add their examples taken the last lesson. This took a full period. The beginning of the next lesson I picked one team at random and had them present their slides. As a class we critiqued their definitions, purpose statements and examples – this was really such a great activity, all students were engaged, and it reinforced their knowledge of film devices and how they are used to create meaning. Following this I gave them a handout (old skool!) on documentary modes and then had them identify which mode ‘spoke’ to them at this stage, which they highlighted. The class was almost over, and the asked to watch some 60 second docos, which we did – they chose really weird ones about animals, and we laughed a lot, but also could identify how the documentary makers were using film devices and different modes to communicate their ‘truth’ about the subject of the doco. Pretty rad! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYsWPPZMhfI9EddYpPe6CYw

As part of the project we will be watching two celebrated documentaries, the first is He Named Me Malala. I gave the students a worksheet (gasp, old skool again!) which had a table with ‘what’ and ‘how’ columns – what = ideas the documentary communicates, and how = the features of the documentary form uses to communicate those ideas. We watch the film in 10-20 minute bursts, and then stop it so the teams can share what their observations with each other and add them to a collaborative doc in their Google Drive folders. Yesterday I asked them ‘Why are we doing this?’ and they could all tell me that this process was going to help them make a better documentary as they can learn from the work of celebrated documentary film makers… winning!

Anyway, this morning I was SOOO exhausted, having just worked two 12 hour days (running our ILP Expo which sees 70 students each night display their projects to family and friends, nuts) and yet despite this exhaustion, I was disappointed when I looked at my timetable to find I didn’t have year 8 today. I guess that just affirms how much I love that class, and the absolute joy it is to facilitate their learning. Year 8 rock!

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