I opened my email yesterday and there was a great surprise waiting for me. I was awarded an Educator Innovator Learning Challenge mini-grant. It is not the whole sum I applied for, but substantial enough to help my students realize some of their 20 Time dreams. The money will help us purchase website domains for some teams, pay book publishing fees for some teams, pay for some speakers to run some workshops on public speaking and purchase some video equipment to put together our 20 Time Showcase. It is an exciting time for my students!
In an effort to check in on team progress, I developed a status report for the teams to complete. This was partly inspired by a worry for some teams and their lack of movement and a desire to have a pulse on all the teams and the great work they are doing beyond the walls of my classroom. This turned out to be an important idea. Below is a link to the status report form.
The status reports gave me a chance to open communication with groups adrift, as well as help other teams with the next steps in their visions. I helped one group complete their paperwork to enter the Verizon Challenge for new apps, I facilitated another student getting a complimentary table at a local Christmas Bazaar to help her fledgling business and pushed another student to finally dig into his idea for a school Frisbee Golf course. I am amazed and inspired by the great work they are doing! The status report also allowed me to help some students redirect their project focus. Any time you embrace group projects, there is always the chance you will have some students riding other student’s work. I gave students the option of completing the status reports together if everything was working out or individually if they were having issues. A couple of teams chose this option and I had to step in and mediate. One team broke into two smaller projects and another changed the final product they will work towards. It is not easy to have these discussions with students, especially the ones that are not participating, but they are necessary with projects like this. Next year, I will implement incremental status reports more often so I can keep a tighter eye on team dynamics. Some of the new directions in projects involve cross-curricular collaboration with Business classes, Computer Science classes, Culinary Arts and our school DECA program. I never could have imagined when I first started thinking about this project what has come to pass thus far.
Probably the most gratifying thing about the 20 Time projects was something that happened today. One of my students chose to embark on a classic book journey to get back in touch with reading and experience some of the greats through the ages. A noble undertaking, but not easy. I love classic literature, but I also recognize the challenges with older, more complex texts and I worried for this student. It had been many years since she read avidly, but I pride myself on finding the right book for each of my students. I interviewed her about the books she could remember loving and a theme of romance emerged. I gave her my copy of Jane Eyre. It has always been one of my favorites and I have had great success over the years finding other Jane-lovers among my students.
I could tell within a couple of classes she was not enjoying the book. I approached her and she hesitantly told me it was not her favorite- she found the story a little complicated. I immediately thought, mentor texts. Sometimes students need to get their feet wet with Mentor Texts that can provide a scaffold to classics. Teri Lesesne wrote an informative book about the subject called Reading Ladders. I do feel there needs to be some more investigation into specific mentor texts to scaffold students to those classics us old English teachers love. So many of us have embraced the use of mentor texts, but some specific direction for teachers of older students trying to move them to more complex texts, specifically classics is a much-needed resource. I may begin to compile one with this student!
In talking to my student a love of dystopic texts also emerged. I suggested When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. I read this on the plane coming back from the AP reading in Louisville and loved it. I thought the dystopic setting, the angst-filled teenage love story and the cautionary message would appeal to her without overwhelming her. I explained to her the idea behind mentor texts and she took When She Woke willingly.
Unfortunately, this was not the right mentor text. I thought it would easily lead her to The Scarlet Letter, one of the books on her to-read list, but she did not love it. She read it, slowly, but there was no joy. She ended up thinking it was a little weird and some of the issues in the novel bothered her. I was still determined to find her book.
This time I went deeper into what she liked about each book she remembered reading over the last few years. One of the books she mentioned was Girl in Hyacinth Blue. I loved this book and the journey through the ages with a piece of art. The writing style is visual and prosaic.
I immediately thought of Ruth Sepetys. I read her novel Between Shades of Grey a few years ago and loved the different perspective of the Holocaust. I also loved the integration of the art pieces as clues for the young girl’s father as she and the rest of the family trekked across Poland. I thought my student might just like Sepetys’ writing style and pulled Between Shades of Grey off my shelf for her. She took it and promised to give it a try. This was Monday. She came in today chattering excitedly about the book. She read it in one night. She stayed up until 3 a.m. because she could not stop reading. We found her book! It was so gratifying to see her passionate about a book and know we were finally successful. Now it is my job to find her next book! Off to the bookshelf…