Thursday, December 20, 2012

A 20% Success!

Meet Kacy (not her real name).  She's a student of mine.  She's a fairly typical student.  She is bright and capable, but also has her difficulties.  She is a quiet kid, at least to adults.  She is cordial and polite when I talk to her directly, but rarely asks questions on her own.

During the whole process of completing her 20% project, she changed directions 3 or 4 different times.  She finally settled on learning to play a song on the guitar.  She didn't keep up with her weekly blog, so it was difficult for me to monitor her progress.  Since the project isn't really graded, I concerned myself more with helping her in other areas of need and hoped she was making progress on her 20% project.

Then yesterday happened.  The students began presenting their 20% projects to the class.  Coincidentally, another teacher got unexpectedly ill and couldn't find a sub.  So, I took one of her classes in my room so she could leave.  Therefore, the audience was larger than just their classmates with several students that had no idea what our 20% project was about.

I let the students volunteer their order of presenting.  Some were excited to be first or second and take center stage.  As volunteer after volunteer jumped up, I could see her make anxious eye contact with me.  She seemed eager to go, but apprehensive to volunteer.  Finally, we had a moment where no one volunteered and I said, "Kacy, are you ready to present?"  She jumped up with excitement, but then, like many teens, tried to play it off like she wasn't excited.

She went to the corner of the room and grabbed a guitar case she had left earlier.  In her presentation, she talked about her difficulty in deciding on her project.  She discussed how she decided to learn to play a song on the guitar and the process she went through.  I limited their presentations to 5 minutes.  At the end, she sheepishly asked if she could play her song even though it would go over her 5 minutes.  Of course, there was no way I could say no.

Then she sat down, and began playing a Taylor Swift song.  She also sang the lyrics which surprised us all.  She made a mistake part of the way through and had to stop and re-position her fingers.  She began playing again and made another mistake.  This time, she put her head down in embarrassment.  Then, the class began encouraging her on.  Multiple students told her what a wonderful job she was doing.  And the tears began to fall.  But they were tears of joy.  She finished the song to roaring applause. She was clearly uncomfortable with the attention, but was proud of herself at the same time.

When I conceptualized the 20% project for my class, I never imagined this. I thought many of them would learn something valuable to themselves.  I hoped some of them would be proud of themselves and maybe even inspire others.  I never expected tears and such a bonding moment for my class.  What a wonderful gift heading into our holiday break!


  1. Troy,
    This is what we want, isn't it? Students happy with their learning...and the happiness showed on this young woman's face for all to see! I truly hope it it contagious for the rest of the students! Thanks for making sure I saw this!

  2. Troy,
    What a delightful story! I'm crying myself, having just read your post and started writing this comment. Yes, it is a wonderful gift of passionate learning for "Kacy", your students and the students new to 20% time! Perhaps they will have a chance to learn like this too. Thank you for sharing it. Lovely! Have a great break.


  3. Thanks for sharing this blog post. You describe the situation in vivid detail. It is easy to imagine not only the student's joy, but also yours.

  4. AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Such an amazing experience. "Kacy's" life will forever be changed. That 20% project taught "Kacy" a 100% lesson in believing in herself & her classmates. Many accolades to you, sir, Mr. Cockrum! :-D