Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mutiny!

Over the past few weeks, @bauerE9 and I joined forces to create a co-curricular assignment for our grade 12 college-level math and English classes. My math class was studying the use and abuse of statistics in the media, while the English class was learning about bias in persuasive writing. A perfect opportunity!

After quite a bit of collaboration from afar (hoorah for Google Docs!), we created Wherein Lies the Truth? Check it out!



We were both VERY excited. The topics seemed to pair so well together, the background info catered well to our Native students, the issues were current, local to Ontario AND controversial. The assignment itself was quite do-able but rich in learning. A great opportunity for students to see how they could use these strategies in every day life, and the perfect blend of math skills and English skills. The students are just going to eat this up.


Or so we thought.


When we introduced the project to our two classes, there was immediate complaining and resistance. I was taken aback by my class - students were loudly whining, protesting; many were griping that this was going to be what failed them in the course. Some questioned why we had to blend the curriculum like this (why should we do English if we're not in English class??), others grumbled that they already had too much work to do - how could we dump this on them all of a sudden?

Students were good in the discussion of the issues at hand, but when it came to talking about what was expected of them in the assignment, chaos ensued. They had no patience to hear the explanation of how to achieve success on this project. When I tried showing them that this was "nothing extra" - just another one of our learning goals covered, they refused to listen. They were turning it into a huge production, when it wasn't any more work than our usual tasks.

I was stunned. This was a unique opportunity for our students - countering the ever-present "when am I ever going to use this??" - and while I didn't expect them to dance in the aisles of the class with happiness, I certainly didn't expect this mutiny. In retrospect, I'm surprised none of them actually got up and left the room in disgust (it was that bad).


So what happened?


Later in the week, I asked my students what fueled their initial reaction to the assignment, and by and large, their reply was "it looked hard." I think this can be broken down further:


  • It looked different: This was very different than a lot (but not all) of what we do on a regular basis. Many students at that age are resistant to changes in their learning , and few have ever engaged in activities that straddle two separate courses. They weren't sure what to expect, or what was expected of them.
  • It looked long: Because we wanted to provide the students with everything they needed to succeed (including the structure for the charts, full background info for students who couldn't be in class, additional resources, and rubrics), the assignment seemed massive. Once they realized which smaller parts had to be completed, they were more at ease.
  • It looked open-ended: It was open-ended. The "correct" answer was not immediately obvious. The students needed to be analytical, creative and original. They recognized that they would need to take a bit of a risk with their work, and it scared them.

Once the students were coaxed into doing the work, though, I started hearing "is that all we have to do?" and "oh, this is easy." Once they came to realize that this was just part of our unit (nothing added on top of existing work), they were more amenable. 

The second day of the project brought students of the completely opposite demeanour. Many had already finished the first part of the assignment and were actively helping others. Many of their paragraphs were creative and made excellent use of the statistics at hand, in ways I didn't even think of.

I'd like to keep creating rich tasks like this for my students.


But I've learned a bit of a lesson in terms of how these tasks are introduced, in order to prevent another mutiny:

  • Put extra info, like rubrics, in a separate document (with links) to reduce length. The assignment won't look as long and might not be as scary, but the same resources would still be available if the students want to consult them.
  • Prepare students by announcing project in advance. Mentioning to them that we have a cross-curricular assignment coming up might allow them to wrap their heads around the idea, and might give them the chance to think about how the two topics might be related. It would also allow them more chances to ask questions of both teachers.
  • Prepare students by having them read something in advance. Having them start thinking about the topic through some light reading - and then discussing the issues in class in advance of the assignment - would help students mentally prepare for the topic and give them a foundation for their work.
  • Do more of this type of thing so it's not a surprise! How can I connect more of my curriculum with other curricula? How can I make it so that my students expect to see these connections rather than be shocked by them?

How do you approach assignments like this? Have you ever experienced the same kickback from the students?

4 comments:

  1. Whoa.
    That is how I felt reading your post this evening. What a bursting of bubble moment! I think that it is really is amazing. Since I teach my own homeroom I have taught cross curricular but it is just with the subjects not with another teacher per say. You have inspired me to reach out to the teachers who do teach them the few subjects I don't and see if we can attempt some cross curricular assignments.
    I like your reflective goals to ease students into the assignment. Your first goal is one that I hadn't though of before. It really can be overwhelming to a student to get so much information at one time for the projects. I am curious to how it will work for your next assignment.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Maria! I find because I get so excited about the big picture, I forget that my students can't always see (or appreciate!) the big picture. You're right - it *can* be overwhelming. I'd love to hear about some of the new cross-curricular projects you try :) All the best for a wonderful holiday!

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  2. When you were describing their reaction, I felt like I was right there. I suppose that's because I've been there before too. It's crushing when you're so excited about a project and the students' first reaction is to reject it. I think you give sound advice here. I'm going to keep this in mind for the next project I assign my students.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! The more I think about it, the more I am reminded that we, as teachers, are constantly learning too (it's so easy to forget this!) - in this case, learning how to best deliver content and materials. Hope your next big project goes smoothly!

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