So, I’ve been thinking about how some of my lessons changed over time. In a recent post I wrote about coming up with new ideas. One thing that didn’t make the final draft of that post was the idea that sometimes a plan is good the first year, but then a lot better in later years. Here’s an example.
One year, I came up with the idea of having a “descriptive language Olympics” lesson. We were reading Tuck Everlasing and it was spring time and there was going to be some visitor. I remember this because we got an email from the assistant division head asking if any of us were doing anything particularly “outside the box”. When I thought about what I was planning for that next day, I realized it was firmly in the box and decidedly not that interesting. So, out it went.
Why is it that sometimes a simple question like that is all it takes to get me thinking about something better? Could I not ask that question myself? Does this happen to other people too?
Anyway, I believe it was in the shower that I hit upon this idea. There would be 5 events. In groups students would contribute passages from the text that best exemplified the particular kind of figurative writing for the event. I would judge and award 1st place, etc. I made a super-quick PowerPoint with the olympic rings on it and the following categories:
- mood madness
- sensory overload
- figurative language freestyle
- wonderful words
- show not tell showcase
How did it go? Well the first year, it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. And, it was too long, too many “events”, and since I wanted to spread the winning around, the judging left a little to be desired.
The next years I tried a few little changes: fewer events for classes that were not that interested, having students come in with passages ready.
Then, last year, I made a bigger change. To be honest, I was partly trying to cut down on the time it took. In the end, the time was not that different, but the outcome was a lot better.
- Instead of having the students collaborate on what to “enter” into each event, I asked them to enter 3 of 5 events digitally on our class blog for homework. Each entry was to have a passage and an explanation of why it was a good example of the given kind of descriptive writing.
- Then in class, we discussed how to evaluate each entry (we decided on 10 points available for each entry-5 for the passage choice, 5 for the explanation).
- The students collaborated on giving the medals to individual entries. No one judged an event in which they entered a passage. The judges posted their decision on the blog.
- There was a brief and moving medal ceremony at which each judging group called up the winners for gold, silver, and bronze medals. There was cheering etc.
So, why was it better?
- All students entered passages.
- Even though everyone had to enter, they had choice about which events to enter.
- Explaining the passage was added and important.
- Students were involved in how to evaluate the entries.
- Students actually did the evaluating. (And, this is the biggest bonus I think. There was a lot of discussion about this. In the end it was often the explanation that won someone the event.)
- I did less and the students did more.
- A lot more of the class time involved thinking, collaborating, and communicating. There was a lot less waiting around time.
- There was more suspense, and everyone had a horse in the race.
- There was cheering.
- The winners were spread out across all sorts of people, without me engineering anything.
Medals all around!