Last year, I did a 20% project experiement with my 7th and 8th graders. I blogged about the start of it here. I've been spending the summer reflecting and discussing with other teachers Kate Petty (@techclassroom), Amie Trahan (@amiet731), Cheryl Morris (@guster4lovers), and others, trying to decided how best to proceed.
The issues I ran into last year:Issue #1. Accountability. I didn't grade the final product. I asked them to blog weekly on their progress, but didn't assess it in anyway. I checked their blogs and had a discussion with them frequently about their progress, but had no consequence if they weren't making progress. I wanted the students to focus on a learning objective and not a grade objective. I knew some students would take advantage of that and not produce anything, but I wanted to see exactly how many. In the end, I had about 20-30% of the students complete very little to nothing.
I go back and forth on this one. The reason we require accountability in schools, as I see it, is to make sure they learn certain skills. As I was evaluating this process, I realized I need to determine what it is I want them to learn. I need to tie this project to a skill or standard. Then, I don't have to focus necessarily on holding them accountable, but more what I want them to learn. Therefore, I determined my goals for this project best fit all or part of 5 Common Core Standards:
SL1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
SL1-c: Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.
SL4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
SL5: Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
L4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
So, that was my first change. Now, as I assess (for my own purposes, not a grade) their progress, I can refer back to these objectives to make sure they are on their way to mastering these skills. The project could meet other standards, but I choose to focus on these in this project. Unfortunately, showing creative initiative isn't a CCSS.L4-c: Consult general and specialized reference materials.W6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
Issue #2: How do you guide without deciding for the student? I had some students that were stuck in the deciding/planning stages way too long. Or, they would begin one project, then change, then change, etc. This goes back to accountability somewhat. But, I need to find that balance between pushing the students to move forward and allowing them the freedom to explore. I like Kevin Bookhauser's reference to The Done Manifesto and to Facebook's creed: Done is better than perfect.
The other part of this issue was that some kids are so grade-driven and/or teacher-pleasing that they want to know what I expect from them. I kept telling them, I just want to see a creative project. But, they wanted to a visual, an example, of what is "good". I combated this by praising every idea or acting genuinely excited to see the outcome. I believe that freed some students up to take risks they might not have tried before.
The change I made here is I've decided I'm going to have to give some "checkpoint" deadlines. Adding in a proposal stage early on to make sure they're on target to move forward. Adding an adult mentor to the equation in order to have one more accountability piece. And, adding a presentation at the end gives them manageable deadlines, but forces them to make progress on something.
Issue #3: A whole year or one semester? My experiment lasted one semester. I've considered making this a year long project like others do. In the end, I decided, for my students, I think one semester is best. That way, they can refocus on a new project the second semester and correct decisions they made first quarter. If a student is really into their project, they can continue on and make it even better. However, this gives them a fresh start to regroup and improve.
Here is how I plan to lay out the project to my students (note: this is borrowed heavily from Kevin Bookhauser and Kate Petty):
- You may work alone or with a small group. Choose your group wisely. It is not acceptable to abandon partners mid-project.
- Choose a project that is new to you and something you wouldn't normally do in another academic class.
- Choose an adult mentor with special knowledge related to your project and set up a schedule to meet with them regularly (in person or via Skype). Mentor must be approved by Mr. Cockrum before the proposal is due.
- Write up a proposal and pitch it to the rest of the class that includes a purpose, audience, timeline, and resources you will need to complete the project.
- Reflect on the process once a week in your blog. Posts need to be 200 words minimum.
- If at any moment you feel lost, overwhelmed, or uninspired, you must set a meeting with me to find a solution.
- At the end of the semester, you will present your project and reflect on the process in a five-minute TED-style talk in front of other students, teachers, and community members.
The proposal will be a completion grade. If the student has a proposal that addresses rule 4 in the proposal they get credit.
The blog posts will average out to a completion grade. I put all their blogs in Google Reader and I can check to see how many new blog posts they have. If a student is not keeping up, we can have a discussion about why or a different way they can document their progress.
The presentation at the end is a completion grade. Give a presentation about a completed project and the student gets the grade.
The point totals will be enough so that the students take it seriously, but not enough to really hurt their course grade if they don't do well. I don't want them afraid to take risks.
I am also considering ways Amie Trahan and I can get our classes to collaborate on projects, so I may revise slightly based on that. However, these are the changes I plan to go with this year on my 20% percent project.
I'd love to hear about your 20% projects.