As I described in an earlier blog post, I decided to have my students complete a project based on the Essential Question session presented by the ACTFL teacher of the year Yo Azama. However instead of having the students follow my content, I let them work in groups and choose their own topics. Students found their own readings and listenings based on their chosen topic. They they made presentations to the class in a formal and fun way.
So now that all of the projects are completed and graded, I have had a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn't. Overall, the projects were a great success. The feedback from the students was very positive. Since they had chosen their topics, they were all interested in their material. Many of them listened to extra selections and videos and read more than the required articles to find just the right one that met their needs. Of course I had a few doing the very bare minimum, but overall, they worked harder than I think they ever had, and best of all they were focused on real world target language activities. Additionally, since they had to do presentations as a group, so they were evaluating each other's work as well.
A recurring problem for me is how to keep the kids in the target language when they are working on projects like these. They work together with the content, often do more than required, and are peer editing each others work, but al oat always switch to English when they are talking about the project. This is a problem that I have to fix and is at the top of my list for goals next year.
The overall structure of the project worked well. Each student needed to have a summary of a reading and a listening, as well as a written letter. Their summaries were in Spanish, but I only reared bullet points. As a group, they needed the presentations as well as a vocabulary list of new words and a bibliography. However, I didn't really do anything with this information for the class overall. Next time, I need to find a way to incorporate the vocabulary and other elements into an assignment for the entire class to ensure that they truly learn from each others work. I still had the feeling that many of the students weren't gaining all they could from the presentations.
The factual presentations were all done well. I think I have finally convinced the students that a good Power Point has mostly visuals with a few key words. Although they were nervous they all presented well because they were really familiar with the information. However, the part of the presentation I was most excited about, the fun/interactive presentations were another story. I had hoped that these would be the best part of the project, however, for the majority of the students, they were the worst. The idea was for them to do something fun to involve the entire class in the presentation. Maybe my directions were faulty, but I needed their entire group to participate in giving that presentation as well. Some thought that they didn't have to participate in the presentation. Some thought that if they served a food they discussed in their factual presentation that was good enough.
Next time, I think instead of making them two presentation, I will just make it one. Hopefully that will eliminate some of the confusion. The big reason I made it two was really just to be able to fit the presentations better into the class time, so changing that isn't a really big deal.
One of the most surprising facets of the project was how the groups worked so well together. They were groups that were formed based on their topic choice, not by me or the students themselves. They were some of the most unusual groups with good mixes of high and low students, outgoing and quiet students, and many groups with students that had never worked together before.
A not so happy surprise was how much computer the the students needed to get this project completed. We spent almost two weeks either in the library or with the laptop cart in the classroom. So, if you are tech challenged at your school, this would be really hard to do.
I am excited about continuing to use this project in class. Next year, I will base all of my units on this format, and then lead up to the choice project that we just completed. I am still unsure about using it for a final exam, but the students were all in favor of it being a final. I will have to keep it in mind while working with my students next year.