cover photo courtesy NYPhotographic via Picserver as per Creative Commons license
My high school juniors’ 20 Time projects are still in their infancy. We began pursuing possibilities in mid October, and the kids are in varying stages of start-up. The process feels overwhelming to me, as I’m sure it feels for them. So, I think we’ve been good company for each other.
Isn’t that part of the goal, though: to get out of the usual, predictable patterns of traditional education? To shake things up a bit? To learn to navigate mistakes and risks and plateaus and uncertainty?
Geesh, I hope so or we’re really getting it wrong!
Last spring, I was inspired by the collaboration between another 2016 Regional Teacher of the Year from Washington, Michael Werner , teacher of CTE and manufacturing, and his ELA colleague to coordinate CTE and communication skills for students. After learning about the endeavor, I asked my juniors to pursue a non-traditional research essay. They learned about a literary style or theme and then employed a communications format to share their learning with the class.
Students produced satire, analysis and synthesis essays, TED talks, and original films, among other responses, on all sorts of topics they chose for themselves. Probably the most ambitious project was the “The Goatman Project,” based on local legend and produced, written, and acted by students. These kids studied horror film typology and then applied iconic characters, camera work, and plot elements into their original short film.
Some of the projects were absolute flops; several students did little more than socialize and slap together paltry, last minute products. In their reflections, most of these students admitted to feeling humbled when watching their classmates present real, powerful learning. I hope that reflection has translated into action for them this year in their classes.
I wasn’t certain how I could do better by all of my students, so I was ecstatic to find Kevin Brookhouser listed as one of the speakers on my NNSTOY agenda. Here is his TEDxMonterey talk on his approach to nurturing student innovation. I attended his NNSTOY talk and bought his book, 20time. Brookhouser outlines several key ingredients that I will employ this year in an effort to galvanize students’ motivation, ownership, accountability, and perseverance:
- Providing students with Choice and a real Audience promotes deep, internal motivation.
- Regular teacher to student feedback, and standards based self reflection are better than traditional grades at developing students’ resiliency and metacognitive grasp of their own learning process.
- Solving big problems takes courage — we need to give students opportunities to activate their own courage.
- Development of creative thinking will serve kids better than development of test taking strategies (and the limited content learning that happens when “what’s on the test” constricts what we learn in class), so it should get quality and quantity air time in the classroom.
- “Failure is an option, but failure to deliver is not.” –Kevin Brookhouser Um, life-skill mic drop.
Once my current classes kicked off our exploration of the “Bad Idea Factory,” we searched for, discussed, and settled into potential project questions and moonshots. One parent asked, “How does this have anything to do with English?” We discussed in class and came up with these salient answers:
- Theme: Social Justice needs fighters who don’t give up.
- Diction: Communication Skills are embedded in any real-world problem solving venture.
- Rhetorical Analysis Needs a Purpose: Becoming good stewards of our growing intelligence and skill = doing good in the world.
Some of the projects kids are pursuing include:
- Vlogging about vegan recipes that promote health and positive food production;
- Inspiring a family culture that respects animals through service at a local shelter;
- Producing a TED talk narrating the experience of volunteering at a local hospital;
- Composing and performing a musical dystopia to promote the importance of access to the Arts;
- Creating a short documentary about homelessness in our area;
- Getting sponsored for a spring half marathon to raise awareness and money for MS.
Most of the assessment kids get from me will be in the form of weekly conferencing, completion points for their proposals, pitches, and blogs, and completing a final self-reflection assessment based on a rubric each student will build incorporating speaking and writing standards they aim to master. Yes, they are going to “grade” themselves (eek!). My hope is that they value the learning and the accomplishment over the score.
I really couldn’t have invented this wheel, and I’m grateful for those educators and students who have inspired me. I have found the following online supports to be invaluable: Brookhouser’s website at 20time.org , 20TimeInEducation.com, and the 20time discussion board.
So now, we do the work, reflect on mishaps and victories, weather the doldrums, and hopefully achieve a final product that makes us proud. For our ELA class, this will include a memorized TED talk showcasing our learning (thank goodness for Poetry Out Loud, we’ll already know loads of memorization techniques!). For some, after their 2 minute power pose and relaxed breathing session, the TED talk will be 5 minutes of narration that showcases a product like a Sway, film, or youtube channel. For others, a lengthier talk will be the final product. I admit I feel a little unprepared to lead this journey successfully, but I can hardly wait to see what these bright young hearts create and solve.
Thanks for reading,