Re-designing the design … another experiment in learning

Year 10 + Macbeth = fun. Right?

Macbeth has always been my most favourite Shakespeare play. I don’t know why but there is something about it that I love … I think it’s that last Act and the sorrow but not remorse of Macbeth. The dawning of existence. A consciousness of meaninglessness. It’s SUCH a great play. I always enjoy teaching it too. I typically work it so as that I read the whole play to my class whilst they listen and answer impromptu questions for understanding and interpretation. Students have seemed to enjoy it.

So why am I changing my approach to teaching it?

I don’t know 100%. I know that I can’t stand and deliver anymore. Well, I probably can but I don’t want to.

I want my students to own their knowledge of Shakespeare.

So I’ve added a gaming element to my Macbeth unit and it really has been hard work. I created an uber project … with a great culminating task that all other classes are enjoying.

It looks pretty impressive on paper – I even made a video:

Working out the XP system and the missions was really complex stuff. I gave it far too many hours. The dream was that adding this gaming framework would engage and excite my young learners … they would feel compelled to inquire into Shakespeare’s Macbeth and tackle the problem of how to make this play relevant or appealing to a young adult audience today.

But today – whilst I was away from class at a conference – I received edmodo messages from students complaining about the lack of direction from me. They didn’t know what they had to do (even though it is all in edmodo for them to access).

Week one of my uber Macbeth Design Project hasn’t yielded the results I had hoped for.

I might be mad.

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.

A priest, a prostitue and a thief – the hilarity of my Macbeth PBL ‘hook’ lesson

If you read my last post you’ll know that I’m currently embarking on a PBL unit with Year 10 looking at Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth‘.

Last lesson was my ‘hook’ lesson. A ‘hook’ lesson comes at the very beginning of a PBL project and is designed, as the name suggests, to hook the students into the project. It’s meant to get them thinking about the Driving Question (DQ) and engaging with the ideas of the project immediately. The last few times I have introduced a project it has been more of the ‘I made a PPT watch it, be in awe of my creative prowess and then get excited about my project’. Nah, that’s me being a little to hyper-critical. The PPTs I have used have been good enough and have ‘done the job’. The pretty much outlined the project, it’s core problem and ideas and hinted at the products to be completed. This certainly is one way of hooking students into a project.

BUT (as always) I wanted to change my approach to the hook lesson. I mean, I’m doing Shakespeare with a bunch of kids who pretty much will all choose to do either Standard English or English Studies simply because they don’t want to do Shakespeare (or texts on par with Shakespeare). I want them to have a good time, to appreciate the drama of Shakespeare … the theatrics, you know? I don’t want them sitting on there bums being bored. I want them to actually inquire about his play, why it is still read, what it might reveal about the human character, how it might reflect individuals in their world – maybe even themselves.

SO whilst I was basking in the glorious sun in Coffs Harbour last week (I was up there strictly for work – presenting at Coffs Harbour HS for English teachers as organised by @madiganda) I devised a hook lesson that involved drama, laughter, elements of the DQ and some Shakespeare. Little did I know I’d end up with the hilarity of a priest, a prostitute and a thief!

Here’s our DQ: ‘What makes an individual powerful?’

Here is my hook lesson:

1.Sit students in Campfire arrangement.

2. Students are each give a Post-It note.

3. On the Post-It notes students write a type of ‘power’ e.g. supernatural, feminine

4. Student post Post-Its to whiteboard.

5. Teacher hands out Post-Its back to students randomly.

6. Students organise themselves into groups of 3-5 and select one of the powers on the Post-Its to act out for the class.

7. Students are sent outside to the school oval and given 15 minutes to plan and rehearse power skit.

8. Students gather at outdoor ampitheatre (yes, we totally have one and it’s awesome!).

9. Teacher gives each student a Post-It with a type of Elizabethan profession on it.

10. Students are to sit in the ampitheatre relative to the status of their Elizabethan profession. (e.g. Nobility sits on top tier, tradesmen etc stand in front of ‘stage’)

11. Students watch as each group performs their power skit.

12. Audience guesses the type of power being represented.

13. Blind vote on the ‘best’ skit.

14. Prize of chocolate awarded to skit judged the best by class.


Disclaimer: Our amiptheatre looks nothing like this.


Giving Macbeth a real-world audience

Not that long ago I wrote a post called ‘Assessment: out with the old, in with the new‘. This post had me recounting how I am trying to update the assessment tasks in our faculty one at a time … each task I am trying to make that little bit more ‘real’ without causing too much of a stir amongst my colleagues. I will be running a PBL project with my Year 10 class as they navigate their way through Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This across-the-board assessment task will function as the culminating product for this project. The premise of the task is that our students will be entering a design competition in which each entrant must submit a potential poster design for an upcoming production of Macbeth. My original assessment sheet looked good to me, but when my colleague ran it by her partner (who happens to be a graphic designer) it was pointed out to me that the assessment didn’t really look like a real design brief.

Authenticity is a key element to PBL, so I wanted to do all I could to ensure the task reflects what students would encounter if this was a REAL competition and not just some teacher-created faux one. Luckily my colleague sent me through a design competition information flyer and I used this to re-sculpt my assessment task. When I showed the task to another colleague (who hadn’t seen the original) she was all excited that Bell Shakespeare was running a competition that matched exactly our assessment task. She asked me what the prizes were and I told her with a smirk on my face that I hadn’t decided yet – she actually believed the assessment was a legitimate competition! Stoked! BUT she wasn’t all that stoked when she discovered my fraud and suggested I remove Bell Shakespeare’s name from the document lest I be sued by them. Humph! I was slightly annoyed but since I want to be an advocate for correct procedure regarding copyright, I dutifully went to the computer and created a mock theatre company and logo. (I used which was pretty user-friendly!)

So here it is … quite a few hours of my life, but worth it I think. Well, that is until I see it scrunched up on the classroom floor.



I’m pretty excited about this task because I managed to sneak in some tips on planning and chunking down the task. These stages will be what my students use to plan their project – I hope the other teachers in my faculty use it in a similar way. All I have to do now is allocate my students their groups and discuss some formative tasks to ensure they’re on the path to success.