And that's why there are so few flipped English teachers talking about what actually goes on in class. I'm always thinking, "Well, this was an awesome lesson...but what was flipped about it? If I share it, someone is going to finally see the Man Behind the Curtain and realise that I'm not as flipped as I claim to be."
So I don't share.
Oh, and I have three new preps, 155 students (70% of whom are new to me as of January 9th), a collaborative partner with three preps and all new students, a burgeoning new website and collaborative group that has taken time and attention (and has been SUPER AMAZING!), and and and and.
All of those things give me less time than I'd like to talk about what I'm doing in class. Frankly, I'd happily give away literally everything I've done in the hopes that it's helpful to others (and I have at least twice here on this site). But there's that little voice in my head that questions, challenges, raises insecurities...and so I don't share. It also reminds me of the times that ideas I've given away on twitter and here on this blog have been taken by others and used without attribution, and often posted to blogs as if they thought it up. And that bothers me a little. I hate that it bothers me. But damn it, Andrew and I work REALLY HARD to make these lesson plans and resources and come up with innovative ways of teaching books and grammar and writing and it'd be nice to have people recognise it by giving us some credit.
Side note: We estimated recently that we spend about 15-20 hours a week planning, reflecting and discussing our classes together. Then we probably spend between 5-7 hours individually prepping and grading every week. Yes. That's a lot. But divided by six preps, that's about 3-4 hours per class per week that we spend together, and about one hour per class individually (or two hours if we're only dividing by the classes we physically teach).
Okay, back to sharing.
I've always had a hate-hate relationship with the term Project Based Learning, and have been irritated when people point out to me that I'm actually doing PBL at some level. I guess I associate it more with the "make a mask that someone would have worn to the party in Romeo and Juliet" or "draw a map of the neighbourhood from the book and label it with significant events" type of thing. And those two examples are well and good and are probably (on the surface) way more fun than doing close reading or analytical writing. But those two examples are things that use A LOT of time, with limited returns on English reading, writing and critical thinking. Are they memorable? Yes. Do students learn something from them? Yes.
Are the projects that should take centre-stage or be called "Project Based Learning"?
I say no.
Let me give you two case study comparisons.
1. Podcasting, San Francisco Stories (11th-12th English elective at Redwood)
My students are listening to a This American Life podcast, determining how telling a good story is different in an audio format than in a video or print format, then creating a podcast of their own that attempts to use those principles to tell their own story. They have to choose a group and topic (the only guideline is that it has to be at least tangentially related to Redwood High School), then they have to write, record, edit, produce and publish it. And then it will be assessed by their peers.
Skills that I'm teaching/assessing: using a controlling impression, using evidence to support a claim, good narrative technique, reflective and thoughtful analysis of an issue, comparing presentations of an idea or theme across genres, using irony, ambiguity and other sophisticated literary and rhetorical devices to enhance the telling of the story, using grammar and mechanics in such a way that the topic can be understood and engaging to a particular audience.
I'm also teaching my students about responsibility, collaboration, deadlines, audio and video editing, production techniques, and a whole lot of other stuff.
2. Character Video for Death of a Salesman, American Literature (11th-12th English elective at Redwood)
My students have watched John Green's excellent video about the first half of Catcher in the Rye and used that to determine how to tell a story and engage an audience about a book. We talked about Green's approach to literature, and how he draws us in to the story by both summarising briefly and connecting us to the things we care about and how they are evidenced and reflected in Holden. Then they chose a group and a character (either Happy or Biff) on whom to focus; we've covered characterisation in class for Willy and Linda, so they have a toolkit of analytical strategies already to pull apart the character to find out what makes them human. They will make their own video that has a (very long) one-sentence summary of the first act of the play, and goes into detail about the character and why we should care about them.
Skills that I'm teaching/assessing: see the list above (both lists, actually) and add something about determining character traits and complex motivations as well.
I'm not sure that what we're doing is PBL the way that most people describe it.
This is meaningful, relevant, engaging, and exciting. My students haven't asked about how it would be graded AT ALL. A few asked when it was due, and if they had to all appear in the video/podcast. But other than that, they've thrown themselves into this project with reckless abandon and I have caught their enthusiasm and now am legitimately excited to see what they come up with.
So, do you agree with me? Is this PBL? What does PBL mean to you? Is a term like PBL even relevant to education? Have you done projects like this successfully (or not successfully)? I'd love to hear some thoughts about it.