- Presentations of classwork usually end up with me being talked at and 30 disinterested teenagers trying to hang on.
- Giving the students “evaluations” to fill out generally smells of busywork.
- By putting approval power in the hands of my students, I’ve seen a complete turnaround in how work is being presented in class.
The Whole Story:
When we talk about authentic learning in the classroom, we usually mean almost-authentic learning in the classroom. When we talk about giving our students authentic audiences for their work, we usually mean finding places for their work to live should the right audience happen by. I’ve done this before and likely will do this again. Sometimes, it’s all I can manage.
With the CtW project this year, I’m trying something new. Though I’m calling this Phase II, it’s really Phase III or IV. First, students individually researched problems/issues in which they were interested. Then, I broke them into affinity groups based on similarities of their respective issues. Then, I told them to compare what they understood as the causes of their problems and find one element common to all of their issues where they could apply singular pressure as a cooperative unit to affect change across issues.
We’re in it now.
Friday, the groups started pitching their ideas to their classmates. That sentence makes it sound like traditional group presentations – the kind I worked for about 30 seconds to stay focused on as a student.
I hated those moments.
Instead, each group’s progression to their next phase depends on garnering unanimous approval from their classmates. When I ask if they’ve gotten to a point at which we as a community are ready to set them loose as representatives of our class and our school, every hand must go up.
Thus far, two groups have presented. Neither has made it through the gauntlet. The work they’ve presented thus far has been some of the highest quality, most inclusive of any group presentations I’ve seen. They know what they’re talking about, they care about what they’re proposing and they know their audience matters. Still, I’ve agreed with both votes. It’s not quite where it could be. I agree with what they’re saying.
While they’re presenting, no one talks to me. Even better, the audience is talking back.
During Q&A after the presentations, I have to wait to be called upon. That never happens.
The groups know my vote doesn’t matter. In fact, I don’t get a vote.
The audience knows they have a say in what they’re seeing and they’re reading the presentations as texts to be questioned and challenged.
When a group presents a 2-minute PSA about the dangers and effects of inhumane acts, the class doesn’t give them a bye because their video was good but their plan for implementation of their ideas was shoddy. They know the bells and whistles and they don’t care.
After each vote, the class heads to a Google Form where they rate the groups’ effectiveness at meeting expectations for the presentations across SLA’s benchmark rubric categories.
At the end, the students must answer the question, “What suggestions do you have for improving the pitch? What questions are still lingering in your mind?”
Most of the time we talk about authentic learning and giving our kids an audience, we’re ignoring the authenticity and audience within our own classrooms. We’re so interested in giving them new places to be listened to, we don’t ask them to listen to each other – we don’t give them reasons to. That’s important.
After typing up my comments, I send them via e-mail to each group along with the link to the sheet of a Google Spreadsheet with all of their peers’ feedback.
They’ll be using the feedback to improve their presentations and gear up for round two.
Admittedly, I’m watching the unanimity idea closely. I’m fairly certain the class will recognize when a presentation has proven it’s muster, but I’m paying attention just in case.
To my mind, this process stands somewhere between the peer editing I’ve seen in Writers’ Workshops and peer review in the submission of scholarly work.
Most importantly, I’m far from the most important person in the room when the kids are talking and holding one another accountable.