Spring is the time of the school year that builds to culmination. My 10th graders just turned in an argumentative research essay that is a culmination of five hard weeks of pre-research, research, drafting and revision. My 11th graders will be the first group of juniors to take the SBA which will assess whether their twelve years of education have culminated in them becoming college and career ready. The seniors at my school will soon deliver oral presentations that encapsulates the culmination of their high school career, and is a graduation requirement.
Spring is also the culmination of the school year. With a month left on the school calendar, I start counting the weeks until summer, but I also get reflective. I reflect on my instruction over the course of the year: What should I change? What can I alter? How can I make my instruction relevant to the lives of my millennial students to prepare them to meet the Common Core?
At a recent PLC meeting, my 10th grade PLC members and I were tasked by our principal to plan our curriculum for next year to guide students to meet the Common Core, pass the SBA, and prep our kids for college and career readiness. (insert Mission Impossible theme here).
We brainstormed ideas. One person suggested teaching mini-units scaffolding skills such as annotation, developing a claim, and evaluating sources. Another suggested developing thematic units centered around the ELA anchor standards. This is when the light bulb in my brain became incandescent. I suggested we create a summative semester long project that follows the Genius Hour model.
Genius Hour is an allotted time within the school day or week that allows students to tinker, experiment, and innovate to demonstrate their creativity. It is based off the Google 20% model where the employees of Google are allowed 20% of their time to tinker on their own projects. Out of this time have come popular Google applications such as Google Maps, Google Docs, and Gmail.
Using Google’s search engine, we searched for three anchor standards covering the three categories of literacy standards – writing, reading, and speaking and listening.
First, the reading standard, CSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5:
Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
Then, the writing standard, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1.b:
Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
Next, the speaking and listening standard, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4:
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
The hope is each step will help prepare our sophomores to meet the Common Core literacy standards, prep them for the performance tasks they’ll face on the SBA, and give them a taste of their senior oral presentations.
We would begin the year teaching students annotation and how to identify ethos, pathos, and logos.
Then, we would instruct the point/counterpoint structure of an argumentative essay.
Finally, students would evaluate sources in their research and make a presentation in front of an authentic audience explaining their findings and conclusions from their semester long project.
What texts we will model, or what prompt we will use for the performance task, or how we will structure the project, and how this will be wrapped up in a nice bow for our students, is all up for debate. This idea is in its embryonic phase.
But, our excitement is palpable. We are excited the Common Core has given us benchmarks, but not guidelines. We are excited Genius Hour offers a framework to make our ideas come to fruition. We are excited what our students will create. We are excited about the possibilities in the fall.