Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Garden of Self-Worth.

This song has been rooted in my memory since I was in college.  It's easy to be a pragmatist when you're not actually teaching, trying to define the exact explanation that would require differentiation for every single student, while maintaining the sanity of the teacher.  Spending my days advocating for the gifted outliers, it's easy to define impossible expectations for both students and colleagues to provide the perfect educational experiences for those on my caseload.  

I know it's been 35 years, but this song, and the reality that is the system that breaks the spirit of learners with coloring boxes so much larger than what is passed out on the first day of school for the pencil boxes still causes me to shed a tear or two.

Value of Self.

 I'm trying something different this year, as a means of student investment in their learning.  It honestly isn't a new idea, although it seems like education in general has wandered away from the idea of student self-evaluation.  As I've mentioned before, the topic for Themes in Literature this semester is 101 Fictional Characters, and my learners are furiously seeking the recesses of their minds to identify characters from their childhoods, literature, family tales, advertising, cartoons, movies, and toys -- among other areas -- to generate a stack of 101 annotated index cards that can be manipulated into our very own version of March Madness to determine which character comes out on top of each learner's pile, earning the coveted title of Most Influential.

March 31st was Deadline Day for the first sixty character cards.  We've explored a variety of filters through which to view the characters, and anyone who applied what we did in class, (and had the determination and work ethic to not procrastinate),  had more than enough data to add to their annotations.

  • Where did this character come from?
  • Why, on the surface, is the character important to you?
  • What Habits of Mind does the character portray?
  • What type of story does the character live?  (Assuming there are only twelve original stories, which each class debated and fleshed out as a filter.)
  • How old where you when the character was introduced?
There is always suspicion when I start class by affixing a post it note onto each desk, and Deadline Day was no exception.    Some of the students thought I was going to collect the stacks of cards and grade them.  Hmm.  Let's do the math on that one!  40 kids, 60 characters, weird color codes and notes of annotation that differs from kid to kid....

The kids picked their best-annotated card and placed it on their desk, and we did a gallery walk, allowing everyone to view one card of everyone else.  

Then it was post it note time.  Three pieces of information were required:
  1. Name
  2. Number of cards/60 complete
  3. Work ethic  (H,S,N,W)  This was the most difficult for some, who are uber critical of themselves, and others who knew in their hearts that they had generated 40 cards in the last 24 hours, but most were pretty honest in their ranking.
And here's how the grading worked:

If the student hit the target of 60 annotated cards and ranked themselves with an S, they got a 47/50.

If the student ranked themselves with an H, and hit the target, 50 points.

If the students ranked themselves with an N or a W, the grade was adjusted down.
It was interesting to see their faces when the grades were returned.  Not one single student challenged the grade, arguing that it should be higher.  (There was one student who argued that she could do so much better on the rest of the cards that she didn't deserve 100%!)

What will happen with the next 41 cards?  I'm hoping the motivation is there for even more introspection, evaluation, and metacognition of the whole process.  Will I grade the next set the way this set was graded?  Honestly, I'm not sure.

I took a risk, they responded with honesty.  I'm hoping that they continue to realize that it isn't about the end, it's about the process, and that flowers come in many colors other than red, so justifying their responses is the actual real answer I am seeking from each of them.

It will be interesting, though, to see if their individual value that they hold with their interaction with their projects is enough to push excellence even further.