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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The plan was simple

I had a great idea the other day.

It came from a deep desire to do less.

Every year, we start Romeo and Juliet with some sort of background activities.

And every year, I kinda hate it.

I've tried lectures and videos and webquests and boring textbooks assignments.

None of it ever really worked out quite right.

It took too long, or lacked depth, or got bogged down in inconsequential details.

Last week, I began preparing for this unit once again.

I really didn't want to deal with it.

Students need the background, but after an exhausting debate tournament, I needed to reduce the hassle.

I've been thinking about this a lot, actually.

About how I do too much, talk too much, think too much...

my students should be doing, talking, thinking.

I should be more or less kicking back and watching.

That's an oversimplification, but you get the idea.

The point is that I cast about for an idea that would achieve two goals:

1. Satisfy the need for background information.

2. Put the bulk of effort on the kiddos.

I had a brainstorm.

After talking it through with a couple of colleagues, I came up with a plan.

I took the existing list of webquest questions and expanded it so I had 28 questions.

Then I printed them in large font on different colored paper.

Next, I cut the questions into strips and color coded one set by difficulty.

I used an electronic copy to determine which numbers should be which color.

The plan was simple:

Each kid gets one questions to create one Google Slide.

Every kid takes notes on all 28 questions on paper from said Slides.

The questions, even the hardest of them, were not terribly difficult.

On average, it took kids 15-25 minutes to make their Slides.

Those kids who worked ahead got extra questions (I don't have 28 kids in most of my classes).

I gave students about two days.

And then I sat back and watched.

I watched them answer questions by researching independently.

I watched them problem solve and strategize when they couldn't find the answers or struggled to write everything down quickly enough.

My favorite strategy was the picture taking...

like six kids asked for permission to take pictures of different Slides and then write the answers from the photos.


I watched them argue about what they needed to write down.

I watched them revise their slides when their classmates noticed missing information or terrible grammar.

It wasn't perfect.

They are teenagers; plenty of foolishness around the edges.

But for the most part, they worked.

They handled it.

All I told them was that they could expect an open note quiz on the final day.

Even that uncertainty most managed reasonably well.

About six, I got an email asking for a copy of the questions from a kid.

That made me smile.

Yesterday was D day.

The quiz they took was five questions that ask for synthesis of the information in support of an opinion.

I don't know what I expected.

I am definitely pleased with the results so far.

Though very few followed directions carefully enough to get the extra credit, no one failed.

Let me repeat that:

I gave them a collaborative assignment, made them take notes on each other's work, then gave them a critical thinking based open note quiz and NO ONE FAILED.

Not one kid that took that quiz scored below a 9 out of 15.

The most common reason for losing points was a failure to write in complete sentences.

When the kids work harder than me, it is a very good thing.

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