There was an edu chat on Twitter last night using the hashtag #HackLearning, and while I didn’t actively participate, I did spot something that struck me:

I initially followed educator Joy Kirr because she had a lot of experience with #GeniusHour, and I’ve always loved what she shares. This particular tweet, though, made me literally stop scrolling and pause to reflect. I’ve been thinking of how to incorporate Genius Hour in my school, but all I was allowed to do was to use it as a “strategy” in my English class and not as part of a program/curriculum. We are currently struggling to meet all the local Department of Education requirements since we haven’t acquired autonomy yet, so our time and capacity to implement new strategies or program are extremely limited.

I’ve almost given up on bringing Genius Hour to my school given that we have less than two months left, but Ms. Kirr’s tweet has made me think of a way I can actually do this.

Authentic Assessments

So one thing that drew me to Genius Hour is how authentic the learning is. The students choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. My school has been an advocate of using authentic assessments, but it has always leaned towards traditional methods. I wanted my assessments to go beyond the pen-and-paper ones. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to incorporate at least one major project that would serve as a culminating assessment for all the skills the students learn. One of the things I’m proud of is the Literary Cafe project of my grade 11 students which was completed just two months ago.

Lit Cafe

Last November 2016, I asked my two EAPP* classes to organize a poetry reading event in a cafe that they were to run also. The project had two major goals: promote literacy and literature, and to expose students to an actual business setup. The kids had finished an entire semester on oral communication principles, strategies, and actual spoken communication experiences (one class had a marketing subject which gave them a bit of an edge, though), so this project was an application of those learnings. For the business aspect of the project, I walked them through the creation of sponsorship letters and business reports, with actual letters and reports as examples/model texts.

Since the students excelled at events planning, that part was a breeze. They easily came together to find a theme for their cafe and poetry, and everybody knew what part he wanted to play. We had performers, hosts, cooks, servers, and promoters. At the end of each section’s successful event, the students wrote their business reports which evaluated their section’s performance.

Posted with permission from video creator Patrick I.

I loved this project because there were people who just absolutely shined whether as performers or advertisers or servers or kitchen cooks. At the end of the event, I looked at one section’s faces and found tired faces and limbs hanging limply or heads flopped on desks, but when I asked them what they thought of their event, everybody burst into a flurry of excited responses. While there were some complaints about the overall logistics (the event took place during the school’s culminating day for Literary Month, which meant simultaneous activities across all high school levels) and exhaustion, the general feedback was positive. The students learned a thing or two about running a business, organizing an event, and writing professional correspondence. They had to communicate orally, in written form, and electronically (when they had to get in touch with their sponsors), so in my personal evaluation, the project was a success.

Choosing own assessments

While this Lit Cafe project was, in my book, the most authentic project I’ve made my students do, it was still a project of MY choosing. Ms. Kirr’s tweet made me think about authentic assessments again. What if students DID choose their own assessments, so to speak?

I put the question out to my students via Twitter also, and I got one positive response. When I asked my class today about their thoughts, a lot of them were on board with the idea, but with some reservations. We’ve all been so used to traditional methods of assessment that any NEW idea is scary and makes our knee-jerk reaction a negative one, so my idea is to think this one through really carefully if I want to bring it to the rest of the school.

The English subject is a practical one. As such, there are a lot of ways that knowledge and skills can be applied. I’ve made my kids (current and past students) write professional correspondence, dialogue with students from other countries through the Generation Global platform, write papers, raise school-wide awareness on disaster risk reduction (among other awareness campaigns), and modernize classic literature. However, these are all applications of my choosing. If I let my students choose the way they show their learning, what boundaries will I have to set, if any?

For example, I have a number of students who are dancers. If they want to show their learning by incorporating dance, would I let them? How would logical fallacies and intertextuality (our current lessons) be evident in dance? How would I grade learning if their mediums of assessment differ from one another?

(I got a sudden feeling of deja vu. I feel like I’ve talked about this before.)

I could wait until the summer work to draw out a plan that will allow students to showcase their learning in their own way, but because I’m impatient, I want to figure out how to do this now.

This will require much more thinking and consultation with my boss, but I’m definitely not letting this idea go easily.

Wish me luck!

*EAPP – English for Academic and Professional Purposes


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