Today I rolled out a new concept for my Honors US History and Government I class, a semi-independent book study.
The project has evolved from numerous ideas. After reading over my archived Tweets from PETE & C, a #KTIchat, and a #PAedchat on Twitter, I am intent on fostering a culture of learning in my class, not a system of work and grading. I want my students to be motivated to learn instead of just wanting to earn a score.
At first, I wanted them to become Muckrakers and find things about town and school that could be improved. However they will be my students again next year and I want them to have a meaningful Summer Reading Experience, this new project will be a test run for that adventure. On a side note, we may still do the Muckraker project later time permitting.
Anyway, I chose The Jungle by Upton Sinclair since we are studying the Progressive Era AND we have enough copies of the books for my class. (The Pennsylvania budget impasse has our district on a purchasing freeze.). School finances are a major inhibitor of new things this year.
I borrowed a study guide from a colleague who used to teach the book in her class and adapted it towards student publishing. Only the first 20 chapters are used in the book study, the last 10 can be completed for Accelerated Reader enrichment points. The reading is grouped into four project sections, with each section needing some sort of published project to explain the discussion questions. Students must create a blog post, a podcast, a video, and then have one project of their own design. The project styles can be created in any order of their choosing. The final aspect would be to create some sort of Book Trailer we would publish. I created a very open-ended rubric of expectations, more to keep me somewhat objective in my grading than for restricting student creativity. Students are not required to be on video in my class, they may have “Special Guest Actors” in their stead, but they must create on multiple medias.
When I explained the project to my students, they were not phased by the reading and the questions. When explaining the project sections, some were nervous about the technology. When I explained that the rubric leaves much room for THEIR creativity, I saw shear terror in some students eyes, and much trepidation in most eyes.
I asked the question, “Truthfully, how many of you are nervous or scared about this project?” All students raised their hands, I joined in too. I explained that it was okay to be nervous, we have not done something this open-ended yet this year. I was even nervous because I was not sure how smoothly things would run. But I tried to reassure them that we will adjust to any “bumps in the road” that we may encounter and we will work together for success. This seemed to calm most of the students’ fears, some will take longer to calm down.
My goal is to get them to learn, create, and share as a second nature. I want my students to be able to express themselves well and gain their voice on a public platform. I want them to want to learn and be inquisitive, not just perform for a number or grade. Hopefully this project in a step in that direction. As we move forward I plan to record our progress, our missteps, our adventures, and my reflections on the journey here.