This morning I am reflecting on a unit that my classes completed on Friday. It was a four week unit over what I call the pre-Civil War era (1820s - 1859). For the first two weeks, students were put into large groups in which they "presented" a whole class lesson on a decade (purely giving content). For the last two weeks of the unit, the students worked individually in which they picked three events in one decade to dive "deeper" into. They used a tic-tac-toe board to pick the products that they wanted to create while also choosing the proficiency level that they wanted to demonstrate.
What worked: Most students enjoyed "teaching" for a whole class period (in a large group). They were nervous overall, but they shined in front of the class. This set them up for success in presenting in front of the whole class. I could tell that some students accessed their group presentation rubric as most students improved upon their eye contact and projection for their second presentation. I also liked that when students presented individually that they weren't required to show memorized content, but instead talked about what they created and how their events caused change (the essential question for the unit). This helped with their confidence and talking to their colleagues instead of just reading from the screen. I heard many students say that they enjoyed having a choice in their topic and product creation, and I felt having the tic-tac-toe board at this point in the year ensured the success as they were comfortable with choice (as opposed to the beginning of the year).
What didn't work: I liked the students taking on the class lesson piece, but I do not feel like I set up the students for success in their content presentations. This unit, more than any prior, made me realize how weak my students' research skills are. This could be a whole other blog topic - teaching students how to investigate on the internet. I don't feel like I train them well in this aspect, and to some extent, expect the students to come to eighth grade prepared with research skills. I know that this is wrong, and I know that my students don't know how to analyze and dive deeper online. Do I know how to teach the students to research on the internet? I'm not sure, but I feel like I need to scaffold their research better. Unfortunately, this means created focused research handouts for each topic. That is something I need to create over the summer if I want to do this unit again (and I know for sure that I do).
I need to, somehow, clean up my directions. I'm not clear if this was all on me, but my students were missing what they were supposed to DO for the second half of the unit. The students just wanted to regurgitate information, when I kept telling them to be persuasive; that they are trying to persuade someone to move to the historical location to ensure that the historical event happens (because, you know, they are time travelers). I know that when I go through their products that most of them will miss that mark.
One struggle (that I've dealt with in the past) is that the students want to make sure that they are doing the assignment "right," so they keep asking me how their product looks, they are checking in with me, and they are asking me questions. This prevented me from checking in with all of my students. I was also trying to get through their research handouts as they were working, but I could never find time. The missing feedback from me did not help the previous issue of my students repeating content instead of being persuasive.
And the BIGGEST problem with this unit is a student problem: time management. Even though I had checkpoints and due dates in place, they were not enough. The students put off their project until the last minute and then scrambled the night before presentations started. I told all of the students to be prepared to present on the first day, but in one class I had to go ask 19 students to present before I could find five students ready to go. I believe that next time I will have more stringent due dates and clearer time management strategies to ensure that their time management is on point. I heard many complaints that I gave too much homework, but it was evident that putting it off until the last minute meant that they had a lot of homework in one night! I wrote on the board how much time they had which effectively ended this complaint.
I had a frustrating week when it came to presentations, but in the end, I know that this was a solid first start to a new design for a unit. I am happy with what I created and am excited to "fix it" for next year!
My Teacherspayteachers website