This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Jennifer Sylves Lanas
Despite having just crossed the threshold of the first quarter, our enthusiasm is still pretty infectious. We are entering the time of year that we’ve looked toward with mounting anticipation, and perhaps just a modest amount of apprehension: project proposal and action plan season! Needless to say, everyone in Cultural Literacy III has something to look forward to over the next few weeks.
In quarter one, our juniors in Cultural Literacy III (Contemporary American Issues) read Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down and paired it with close-reading and empathy building techniques. Along with preliminary research and narrative storytelling strategies, our Holy Family Academy students ideated wrestled with real-world issues present in the novel and inspired by their own experiences. In turn, students submitted project proposals ideating upon these issues with the goal of bringing the story to a wider audience, promoting awareness, understanding, and empathy. Ultimately, to become change agents we must first be ambassadors of deeply personal stories inspired by literature and life.
To evaluate each other’s work, we adapted a tuning protocol by Agency by Design. It is a systematic way to look at student work and offer feedback to reflective practitioners. My dear friend and colleague, Kristin Alvarez is a member of ABD’s Pittsburgh cohort. When she taught this to our Holy Family Academy teachers, I immediately began thinking of how I might be able to hack it for our Cultural Literacy students to use. The resulting activity yielded some of the best peer-review conferences that I’ve witnessed in my teaching tenure.
Admittedly, it is a challenge facilitating so many different projects among three sections of Cultural Literacy. In a few instances, I am coordinating meetings with teams of students spanning multiple class periods. Moving forward, we are utilizing at least one class period per week (70 minutes) as well as taking advantage of our flexible schedule that gives all juniors a one-hour block of lunch and Independent Learning Time (ILT) three-days per week. Some teams and individuals are more enthusiastic about continuing this process of guided inquiry and project-based-learning than others. These motivated teens are writing podcast scripts, blogging at home, and sketching-out plans for storyboarding mini documentaries or constructing robotics projects. In order to facilitate the project and continue the pacing of our contemporary issues curriculum, we have project benchmarks throughout the month of November and the early part of December.
I would be a liar if I said that 100% of our students are on-board with this departure from the traditional “culminating project” model that we are all accustomed to. We spend one class period per week studying a mentor text or conducting primary source investigations in addition to the one period that we devote moving forward on our PBL goals. Considering that we only meet three sessions per week, it is imperative that everyone do their collective part to stay focused. I have to be a reflective practitioner and flexible in terms of timing and scheduling. It’s not as though I pitched the project timeline to our juniors and their joyous shouts of approval ensued a celebratory parade down Ohio River Boulevard… Had that occurred, I would request that we ride unicorns and invite sasquatch, chupacabra, and a leprechaun to preside over the festivities.
Without a doubt, I consider it a preliminary victory for our students to take control of the story of their learning. They are engaging in deeper learning, becoming experts in the topics that they have selected. I have become a student in the world that they creating--whereby they are expert researchers and designers of an experience that will educate others. At this phase in the process, our juniors are now looking for an authentic audience to share their work and expert knowledge. I could not possibly be more proud of our students. Needless to say, perhaps I have the most to look forward to and to be thankful for this November.