We will be sending our kids into an increasingly complex world which demands abstract thinking, creativity, decision making, accountability, and interpersonal skills, in addition to the hard skills of math, reading, writing, and communicating. With this in mind, schools are evolving to teach a broader skill set. Our current Language Arts unit is designed accordingly.
Our all-school dance (Celebrate the Beat) is starting next week, and students are working on a Language Arts project based on the same theme: Art, and Art Inspiration. The project includes website design, fiction reading, non-fiction reading, computer-based research, paragraph writing, essay writing, poetry, and art. Students are using this website as a guide, and they are given the deadline to complete all aspects of the project by February, 6.
What can you expect from your student? With a diverse set of assignments all spread out over a three-week period, students have the choice about when and how to work on each piece. Some are electing to begin their website design and research, first, while others are jumping right into their art project. No matter the task today, each student has the same final product deadline. While every student is allocating their time in different ways, my guidelines are that they spend 80 minutes each day working on their project. This allows 50 minutes in class, and 30 minutes at home. Currently, most students are spending 30 minutes on their website, 20 minutes on IXL skill practice, and 30 minutes reading. As we progress, students will likely spend less time on their website, and more time on their artwork. For students who are absent, plan on working for 80 minutes each day on their LA project. This guideline will ensure that they complete the project for the final showing on the night of our CTB performance.
Are 7th and 8th graders ready for a long-term independent learning project? Adolescent students want autonomy, social interaction, and choice, but still require support to develop study habits, accountability, and work strategies. Through this independent work structure, students have the space to collaborate, to budget their time, create their own calendar, and to make decisions about the quality of their work, and strategies to complete it. Students are given the room to develop time management skills by creating a long-term calendar, to organize their work visually by sharing ideas and modeling with others, and to evaluate the quality of their work by referring to pre-established grading criteria. Many students will not be perfect with this increased autonomy, but I will be monitoring from a close distance to assess their productivity and quality. Giving them space to develop their work strategies is an essential experience in learning this broader skill set.
What is the teacher’s role in all of this? While the majority of students are busy working on their projects, I have time to meet with small groups of students who need individualized instruction. I have created specialized groups who work with me daily on sentence writing, vocabulary, paragraph structure, and reading strategies. Not every student needs this specialized practice, but I am meeting with those who do. Similarly, I am checking their websites, and skills practice regularly, and am conferencing with groups to listen to their work strategies, and to comment on the quality and quantity of their work.
So how are students held accountable? Not every student develops independent study habits gracefully! Much of my discussion with students is based on goal setting, accountability, time on task, asking for help and clarification, and generating ideas. Students will meet weekly with a team of students to share their work: showing their website, describing a passage from their book, sharing their IXL progress, and displaying their art pieces. In this way, students can influence each other to perform. And, don’t worry, I am meeting with each student on a weekly basis to conference about their progress.
We look forward to sharing our projects with you on the night of our dance performance!