Finally, no one cares what I think

The Gist:

  • 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.

6 thoughts on “Finally, no one cares what I think

  1. Sounds like there is some great learning going on (the students and you). Thanks for sharing and continuing to push the envelope of what is good teaching. I look forward to hearing more about the project as it progresses.

  2. “I’m far from the most important person in the room when the kids are talking and holding one another accountable.”I wish more teachers could say this more often.

  3. good stuff.i love it when i raise my hand… and i don't get called on for a while.i love it even more when i get minimal eye contact as opposed to all of it.it feels like there is life in the room.this is great: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.i don't know that i've ever heard someone say that before.thank you. great insight.

      • yeah – and your insight doesn't let me sleep at night. dang.so – the whole peripheral post.. i should go back there to comment – but maybe there's more peripherals here? :)you know your utopian pln?… i started wondering about it's validity in light of the need for opposition in order to maintain optimization and balance.. that's what came to mind as i read that post.so i waffled.. maybe we shouldn't try to find/create that pln. and i didn't like that thinking.and then this post by zac – of the authenticity right in the classroom – and his comment on your post about eating lunch with other cliques.my latest thinking (yes – as of an hour ago) – we should use the web and whatever else to create those ultimate plns… more gets done when you share passion.. just reading through zac's twitter groups is evidence of that.but.. we have to commit to eating daily with all the other groups. we need to have eye contact daily – in the classroom or at work. i think this is one of the biggest problems with most religions.. we create a group of like minds – and shut the door. so what are we really solving then? and who's keeping us in check?i crave critique. i don't always like it. but i know i need it if i want to do work that mattters.how cool would the world be if we were each stronger because of our astro-twin plns… but also committed to hashing daily (emphasis on daily) with the rest of the world.

        • This is important: “What are we really solving?”That is something I wonder a lot. Whether we are alone, in a perfect pln, ortrying to reach for those who are outside of it, if we always come back tothe answer we are seeking, I think we will be okay.So, what are we really solving by having these scattered conversations.We are solving my need for connection to people who are as passionate aboutlearning as I am. We are solving the balance I crave because you don'talways agree with me. We are solving my propensity to stagnate after doing a”good job”.If we only solve those things (which I am not sure is the case), I would behappy with that.

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