Saturday, May 17, 2014

Taking Risks

“When students create for the world they make it good.  When students create only for their teachers, they make it good enough.” -Rushton Hurley

My students have been creating a digital magazine for the past several weeks and I’ve observed a few things. I’ve noticed engagement on their part. Not initially, but now it’s there in spades. I’ve noticed a desire to learn more about the layout process. They all want to work on the layout, arranging the stories and art in ways they think is best for the reader. I’ve noticed they keep their reader in mind as they work—on everything. Videos, picture-taking, stories. Everything. But more than anything, I’ve noticed they want to revise more.
            This revelation is the most exciting in my mind. These are students who traditionally have eschewed the writing process. Their attitude majored on “it’s good enough;” they didn’t take pride in their work or put effort in to polishing it. But their attitudes are changing with this project. Even when we discuss the story and I point out ways it could be strengthened, I don’t get the usual whine. Instead, they nod in agreement and scurry off to do more research or beef up the weak areas.
            It makes me see the truth in the quote by Rushton Hurley. Make the work authentic and for a real audience and students will respond accordingly. They take ownership of the work, knowing that their audience will be wide and varied. Because of this realization, they want to put forth their best work, something they can be proud of and look to as a best effort.
            So why don’t we do this more? Offer our students authentic lessons? Is it because, as I said in my last post, we lack the desire to take risks? One of my students, who transferred to my school in April, asked me, “Why don’t the other schools teach English like this? I’d have gone to my classes if it had been more like this.”
            I thought about his comment for a few days, intersecting it with the quote by Hurley. My students reinforced this idea, tripping over each other to tell teachers all about what they’d learned and what they’d produced.
            Just as I observed a few things about the students during this project, I did the same about myself. I noticed a definite insecurity while managing this project. I was outside my zone of comfort, treading into unknown territory and that was scary. What if we ran out of things to do? What if we had too many things to do? What if I couldn’t keep up with the work the students were doing? How could I make sure they were engaged? What would happen if they didn’t buy in? Doubts swirled in my mind during the duration.
            I also noticed it took a lot of extra time to develop this idea and stay ahead of the students. Maybe this was why teachers were reticent to take on a project. The management aspect can be just as scary as the self doubts.
            Finally, I noticed how I had to readjust my thinking away from listening to the traditional education voice to listening to the progressive education voice. This took almost as much work as developing the project itself.
            In the end, I evaluate myself and the project. Would I do it again? With modifications, in a heartbeat. I’ve rarely had as engaged students as I did during this project. Some may argue with that statement, but it’s true. Watching my students problem solve, collaborate, and interact while honing their writing skills convinced me my strategy was spot on in choosing this project.
            So what’s the take away with these thoughts? Next year I plan on taking more risks. I encourage you to do the same. Step out of your zone of comfort and try something new. And engaging. You won’t regret it.


  1. I am concerned that the importance given to test scores as far as funding, employment and advancement discourages teachers from taking risks and trying new ways of presenting material.

    1. Good point, Barb. Engaged kids learn more. Can we engage them by teaching to the test? I have my doubts... Thanks for the comment.

  2. This is exactly what I want to do with my classes next year! I'll be asking you for some more information soon. Nice work!

    1. I'll help however I can. This project was great!