Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Structuring Lessons that Allow for Student Choice from Alison Eitel

This post is from Alison Eitel, language arts teacher at High School South


Students in the driver's seat:
Students choose the output option that best reflects their new learning.
As an English teacher, I am constantly having to make decisions about what I will teach, and what I will leave out.  There is simply not enough time to say everything there is to say about a text in the time allotted.  This was no different for my unit on The Crucible.  As we finished reading the play in LA II Honors, I bemoaned all that my class had not had time to explore together.  But my students are bright and motivated, and I wanted to give them a chance to reach some self-directed, deeper understandings of the text on their own, without large class instruction. 

For their final assessment, I devised a group project in which they would be able to a) complete a supplementary reading dealing one facet of the text, b) discuss the reading with a small group, c) reexamine The Crucible through this new lens, and d) create a "new text" synthesizing themes and ideas for both their article and The Crucible.  This "new text" would demonstrate their developed understanding of the play and I hoped would be a format to share with and engage the larger class.

...and students research digitally. 
Students research in print...
I provided each group with a selection of supplementary articles to choose from based on their collective interest.  This would be their “input.”  I also gave them a list of genres to consider for their ‘output.”  The list included:

  • a simulation of a Time magazine
  • a tabloid
  • a newscast
  • a digital archive
  • or a character blog. 
I conferenced with groups individually to ensure they were digesting the articles and moving forward in their knowledge of the texts.  

Once they had some new understandings of both their article and The Crucible, I encouraged them to think about which genre might best frame their ideas and to select a format for their output that they were already somewhat experts in.  (This way they would be able to filter their new understanding into a familiar format, and I didn’t have to teach into these genres too much.)  Nonetheless, I did require them to examine real-life versions of  these genres--Time editions, blogs, and tabloids-- in order to accurately simulate this genre.

Students work in Google Docs to collaboratively
plan their projects. 
For the final product, students presented their new texts to the class and shared their new understanding.  Students were encouraged to think of how they might not just tell the class what they did, but actually teach the class about their new understanding, inviting their classmates to share in their new knowledge.  Many of the projects were quite impressive, as the students used their individual creative strengths to communicate their new learning.  I saw everything from:

  • live newscasts at the scene of the witch trials 
  • twitter feeds featuring Abigail Williams stalking John Proctor
  • Proctor as Time Magazine's "Tragic Hero of the Year." 
The students had a lot of fun creating these new texts and exploring The Crucible in a new way.

This is my second year doing this project, and this year I made several changes to guide the students along.  It is still far from perfect, and I have a host of ideas for revising next year.  But overall, students responded positively to both the freedom to pursue their groups' interests and the creative choice.  We all agreed that it was an authentic assessment of their learning, and it was a lot of fun! 



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