Saturday, March 17, 2012

Revolutionary Celebration

This past summer, I visited Scott Duyan at Presidio Hill School in San Francisco.  I had been reading Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth, and wanted to chat with Scott about homework, teaching, and life in general.  During our lunch at the delightful Burmese Kitchen, I outlined what I was hoping to accomplish in the coming year.  I was trying to reduce the amount of homework in my seventh grade class and encourage kids to follow Google's model of spending 20% of their time working on projects of interest to the students.  Scott encouraged me to implement the changes, and to, "report out my findings."  Scott, this post is for you.

The biggest success, by far, has been the class blog, CulturesRev. Setting it up involved creating a standard Blogger document, figuring out a color scheme seventh graders would like, and tweaking the sections to fit what I wanted the class to see.  Next, I copied and edited Mike Gwaltney's AgeofEx blog posting, commenting, and author reply instructions.  Mike has a very thorough document explaining to students why they are blogging, and about the importance of tone, audience, accuracy, and research.

The students took the blog experiment seriously.  As I explained the assignment to them, they asked typical "fear" questions such as, "How do I decide what to blog about?" or "Do I have to send the post to you [teacher] first?"  Because our school uses Google Apps for Education and our Middle School art teacher, Dale Rawls, and intern, Shelly Redden, had already begun having kids post value studies and reflections, most kids knew how to post.  Early on, I allowed kids to post about long-term projects, difficulties in starting, procrastination, etc.  After a couple of weeks, posts became more research based.

I would have been satisfied once the entire class posted.  The posts themselves reflect a depth of thought I have seldom seen in seventh graders.  Posting their findings, including links, images, and references became a challenge to students.  If one person found a cool image, the next poster wanted to find two cool images, etc.  I was nervous about the comment phase of the project, and it was fast approaching.  Moderating a public discussion was not something I wanted to do, so I set comments to be public meaning that anyone could publish a comment.  I also explained to students why I would not be commenting on their writing.  If I commented on one person's writing, I would have to comment on everybody's writing.  The kids instantly grasped that my writing "Good job, Joey," 64 times in a variety of ways would not be particularly meaningful.

Instead, students took on the role of commenting themselves.  They reflected writing back to the authors, asked probing questions, encouraged their peers to both write author replies and do more research.  For the project, the minimum number of blog responses was four, but many students wrote seven or more replies, comments, etc.

Reducing the number of assignments and, therefore, the amount of homework in the Revolutions Project did not reduce the quality of learning in the project.  On the contrary, students probably wrote more deeply than in other group completing this project.  For the first time ever, all students turned the project in on time.  My colleagues reported fewer conversations about stress, amount of work, etc. than in previous iterations of the project.  Six students turned in the whole project electronically.  Here is one example.  This project lends itself to statistics, here they are.  64 kids completed 2752 assignments in 59 calendar days.  Students and parents sent me 1477 emails relating to this project.  CulturesRev has been viewed 3654 times and counting.  

It is a good time to celebrate success.  Everybody worked hard, took risks, and pushed themselves to write and think their best.  Thank you, Scott (and others,) for the encouragement to take this risk.  For now, Jasper has the final thought, "Time to sit on the couch and be lazy again."  

1 comment:

  1. The senior project team has found something similar, that (surprise) students do better project work when they think actively about the process during the entire project.