Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning About Engagement

I’ve been thinking a lot about engagement lately. I helped a special education student teacher plan a unit so that she could teach in my reading classes. Topic? Graphic novels. Using Terry Thompson’s fabulous book, Adventures in Graphica, we sketched out a two-week unit on the components of graphic novels. The cumulating assessment has the students creating their own comics and reflecting on why they made the choices they did for their comic.

When I co-teach, I add to the conversation during the mini-lesson, but I also move around the back of our group a lot, checking in on the students I can’t see as easily from the front of the carpet. What I’ve noticed throughout this unit is that they don’t need a lot of direction to stay on task – these kids are engaged.

Today we detailed what we were asking for in the final piece of the unit. They are to create a rough sketch for their rough draft – planning out panels, speech bubbles, think of perspective, etc. After working through that planning piece, they will move on to a final draft, adding detail and color as they go. I’ve done my own rough draft, and during our work time today, I finished my final draft.

Sitting at the round table in the front of my room during work time, I glanced up and looked around the room. We’d had our mini-lesson for reading and writing and I had listed the projects students could work on for workshop time. Looking at the clock, I realized that almost thirty minutes had passed. I stood, stretched, and glanced at the kids who I was sitting with. We had been quietly chatting as we worked and their comics were amazing.

Moving around the room to check in on other groups, there was a quiet hum of conversation coming from every corner. Kids were working on their comics at various stages – rough drafts (due tomorrow), final drafts for those already ahead (due Friday). There were some kids working on their book of Heart Poems which was due Friday, but I had extended the due date by a week due to some technology issues we’ve had. Regardless of what part of the room I visited, they were working hard.

After moving around the room, I returned to my group and my table to finish my comic. Reflecting on the class, I thought through the parts of the workshop that made it easier for the students to focus and work. They chose where they were sitting and whom they were sitting by. They chose how to use their time and which project to work on. And while they didn’t get to choose the assignment, they had a great deal of choice on how they completed it.

Choice obviously has a great deal to do with the focus I saw in our classroom, but I still think I can do more. This weekend I watched my oldest son, a fifth grader as well, spend well over two hours creating another video for his YouTube channel. He scripted the video, filmed it, edited it in iMovie, uploaded it, and created a trailer. (You can be entertained by it HERE.) The only part that I taught him in the beginning was a five-minute lesson on the little I knew about iMovie, the rest he taught himself.

The same day I stumbled across a beauty blog written by a former student. While not in my homeroom, I had her for one class and wouldn’t have thought writing was her passion. Reading her blog, I was stunned. It was well done and she had obviously put forth a lot of effort into the look and feel of the entire site.

Thinking of my son and former student, I couldn’t help but think of my current class. They show so much promise at times – like this week. But looking at Luke’s YouTube channel, or this girl’s blog, I feel like we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg at school. How can we change our classrooms to really allow our students to flourish? What can we create that will really make them think? Inspire? What can I do to facilitate that type of learning? I feel like I’m hovering around the answer, but not completely there. Looking at my class today I knew that what we were doing was awesome, but I think we’re ready for the next level. Now I just need to figure out what that is.