This week, Google Music ceased existence. Although it let me transfer my playlist over to YouTube music, all of the podcasts I listened to on my trip to Calgary have disappeared. So unfortunately, that means the paper scrawled full with quotes and ideas isn’t citeable, and without the list to look at, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Consequently, I apologize that I don’t know who said this, but it’s totally true:
“Every system is perfectly designed to get the result it gets.”
I thought on that for a long time. It runs parallel to the idea that, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” I’d cite that too, but the internet is undecided on who actually said it lol.
So what do we want for our kids?
To be creative? Critical thinkers? Innovators? Problem-solvers? Relentless passion-pursuers?
And when they aren’t as creative or innovative or passionate as we hope they would be AND we are doing what we’ve always done, is the system getting the exact result it was designed for? Hmmmmm.
This fall, so much was new.
With the quint-semesters, everything was compressed into 2.5hr classes and 35 days.
Masks. Seating plans. Movement restrictions. Nothing felt the same.
But also a perfect opportunity to clean-slate it. So with our focus on social issues as seen through a media lens, we began.
In the first few days, the students and I (muddled) our way through the curricular outcomes to come up with individualized portfolio plans. They chose how they would meet each outcome on their own, or in a collaboration with others.
We took the 2.5hrs and broke it into small chunks. We kept the workshop model and the things we value in ELA at our school: booktalks, daily reading, quickwrites, student table talk, mentor media pieces, daily writing.
We went completely gradeless with a focus on learning. We side-by-sided it everyday. We built community with thinking classroom activities and language-based games.
We learned Google Classroom, flexing between whole-class instruction and Google Slide lessons referenced individually as needed. We equally valued product and process, creating a reflective artist statement on every piece.
We shared ideas and put up examples from our classmates as people completed their work. We brainstormed what “good” infographics, photography, writing, visual art, oral presentations, etc. looked like. We had flexible schedules, some working straight through and taking their break at the end, with others needing their 10 minutes mid-morning to squeeze in a game or two of “Among Us.” (Google it lol.)
I know that’s just a list, and not a reflection. We aren’t quite done yet, and I’m still getting my head around what differences those changes are actually tied to.
But I can tell you this much.
Attendance has been a challenge for many of these students in the past. They were there almost every single day.
Physically getting words written down, is also not easy for some. Instead of a handful of sentences, they used the Google Voice Typing feature and regularly got 450-500 words in their reflective pieces. Another student used Screencastify to record his voice and walk me through what he was thinking for his writing work.
Student choice was huge for some, difficult for others. Some had a singular social issue that they were passionate about, and they weaved it through all of their portfolio pieces. Others had different topics for each.
Juggling multiple tasks at once had its own challenges. From the beginning, I likened it to cooking a meal. You can’t just cook one thing at a time, it’ll take forever and things will get cold. You have to multi-task and it all has to come together at the end to eat. (Midway through the month, we watched a great TED talk on procrastination to help some of us stay on track!)
There is a huge range of ability: some of the most beautiful poetry that I may have ever seen; raw writing on Period Poverty, abuse, BLM; and a narrative on a pizza pop that I’m not 100% sure I want to know the ending to. But they are engaged and interested and I have been impressed every day watching them work.
We aren’t quite there yet. It’s hard to switch to a mindset of learning, and more than once a student wouldn’t see the value of games or activities that day, wanting to work on the portfolio to ‘get it done.’
We have a final assessment this week that is outcome-based, with a series of tasks (comprehension, composition, reflection) to complete in their 3hrs. They are given a job for the United Nations and need to create a presentation (PowerPoint and either a persuasive speech or narrative) suitable for middle years students on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not a secret. They’ve seen the ‘test’ already and know what lays ahead. Then we will have individual interviews to go through their portfolio pieces and reflections, determining an overall final grade together.
That’s really nice, you’re probably thinking. But what do the students think? If the idea was to have more engaged, innovative, and thoughtful students, is that what has happened?
I’ll know more this week as I ask them.
But this was in a student’s writing notebook this week, and although there are definitely things that can be improved, it gives me hope (and some relief lol) that a system meant for student voice, choice, thinking, and creativity will get the results it is designed for too.
When school first started and we were in the classes, I was a little disappointed. All my friends were in the other class and I wasn’t necessarily that close with K<name> although we were lowkey friends. Also I saw all the boys in this class last year get kicked out every day so I’m like this class is going to suck. We started our projects and K and I vibed some more and I really enjoyed this. I normally don’t like having that much option for projects and what to do in class. I normally just like to be told exactly what to do like with our essays and not having to be creative at all, but I really enjoyed everything we did this year.
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