Have you ever planned a project that you knew wasn't very good?
I loved the idea but didn't work out the kinks and when the kids tried to do it, there were more challenges than it was worth?
Yeah, I've been there too; I think we all have.
One thing I learned a long time ago, is that if you want to create meaningful projects, you have to be willing to try them yourself first.
Since I started the practice, my projects have improved greatly.
There are some great benefits to doing your own assignments. They are:
Determining the actual rigor and meaning behind what is created
Figuring out whether the directions are easy to follow
Troubleshooting issues that can arise when a student sets out to complete the task on his/her own.
Developing a model assignment to share with the students as an exemplar
Getting a good idea of how much time it will likely take to complete the assignment well.
The first time I did the assignment first was a community map done with my 7th grade humanities class. Having never taught middle school or social studies before, it was hard for me to gauge what was appropriate for them. In an attempt to teach them map skills and some basic local geography while getting to know them, we embarked on the journey together.
Since I wasn't excited about teaching the age group at first (I'll admit it, I never really saw myself as a middle school teacher, but I'm really glad I did it once. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who love this age), I needed to find something that would break the ice for all of us.
I went home that weekend and ran straight to Michaels. I bought oaktag and colored pencils and I loaded up a map on Google Maps. Busily, I started drawing out my childhood neighborhood, developing stories as I asked my students to. Laboring for hours to complete the map well, I was super proud when I was finished.
As I traveled to work that morning, I was really excited about sharing my work with the students so they could have an idea of what I was looking for. My co-teacher did one too and we didn't consult each other first so that the kids could see there were different ways to successfully complete the task. (And our approaches were indeed very different).
Sadly, before I could share my work with the students, I spilled my coffee all over it. I was seriously heartbroken. All that hard work was ruined... so I thought.
Coffee aside, doing the assignment really did offer a great deal perspective for me. Upon reflection, I realized that I needed to be more specific in some areas in the directions, and more flexible on others. Some students may not have access to the materials I had and therefore the product expectations needed to be adjusted.
When the students saw my work, it didn't matter that there were coffee stains all over it. They were so interested in my stories and how I completed the task. Being able to reflect aloud for them about my process and share my challenges and successes brought us closer together as a class as well as providing them with a visual expectation for successful completion.
Since that project, I have tried almost every project with my students first. If I reuse projects from the past, I still try to adjust them each year to appropriately suit my students and my own growth. Perhaps there is new tech that I've learned that will enhance the project or we've added or subtracted something from the unit, it makes sense to constantly be revising these tasks as needed.
Have you ever tried doing your projects? What have you learned about yourself from the work you ask kids to do? Please share
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in April of 2015