Taking the reins off

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

OK, cards on the table: I had every intention of writing this post at the start of December, but a series of unfortunate events conspired to get in my way. Now I’ve found a little time to write up one of my most recent projects and share what my S3 class were getting up to at the end of last term.

Having completed the study (including an Int2 level critical essay) of ‘Assisi’ and a discursive essay with my S3 at the start of the year I decided to move on to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. This decision involved breaking a personal rule of mine, which is to avoid teaching my own personal favourite novels, but I have a huge amount of faith in my third years and thought that they would be able to do justice to a text that I consider to be one of the most important pieces of literature ever published.

From the outset, however, I was determined to do something a little different with the novel; inspired by Neil Winton’s “What is Beauty?” idea, I decided to set my pupils a seemingly simple task: submit something on the subject of prejudice and/or discrimination. I made it clear to the class that they could submit just about anything so long as it was something that they were proud of and that they had clearly worked hard on; I also explicitly stated right from the start that I did not want to see drafts of their projects and that, while I would help people if they asked, they were not required to even tell me what they intended to hand in. Teaching English often means marking a couple of dozen essays that are all essentially the same, so I was desperate for as much variety as possible.

To be honest, I expected to encounter quite a bit of resistance – not to the task itself, but to the sheer amount of freedom and control being handed over. Pupils are so used to the idea of submitting drafts and receiving corrections that I thought they might feel a bit over-whelmed by the prospect of being expected to complete an entire project without any of that support – I was wrong! The vast majority of the class took to the task incredibly well and, having been given a specific time-frame (7 weeks) every pupil handed in their project on time (mostly via Edmodo). What really struck me was the remarkable enthusiasm amongst the students – in my opinion, this was a direct result of them feeling both trusted and respected.

On hand-in date (which, entirely coincidentally, happened to be on the same day as S3 Parents’ Night) I received Powerpoints, Prezis, Thinglinks, Youtube videos, posters, a model, some creative writing (one of these pieces is more than 7000 words long) and a model.

If you would like to see what a really good S3 class can produce when given the freedom to just get on with it you can visit: http://mys3class.wordpress.com

So where do I go from here? Well I’ve decided to push the concept even further, making use of the central idea as part of a poetry analysis and production project. This experience has strengthened my belief that you only really know what a student (or class) is capable of when you take the reins off and let them use all of their knowledge and skills independently. Within the next month or so I should have a range of submissions which explore a selection of poetry choices (again, the students will have a free choice as to what form their submission actually takes), as well as a collection of poetry produced by the pupils (all of which will be added to the blog linked to above) – I’ll let you know how it goes.

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