We have now officially had our full 20 Time work days in both my “A” and “B” day classes. I observed much more real work going on with the projects. Most teams charted out their timelines for the duration of the project, allocated responsibilities for blog posts, as well as other project elements.
By and large the change in model has been successful. I did have a couple of interesting conversations with my writer groups though. The students that have committed themselves to writing a novel, collection of short stories or poetry anthology actually espoused a dislike for the new model and I can understand why. One student lamented that the weekly writing requirement forced him to create a writing routine for himself. He has found without the class requirement of weekly writing, it is difficult to make himself write, especially when writer’s block sets in. I completely understand this dilemma. I explained to him that I schedule some time each week that I must sit down and write, even if I don’t want to, even if I have nothing to say. I sometimes write the same word over and over until something comes, but I make myself do it no matter what I have going on in my everyday life because I know how hard it is to get back into a habit once you have deviated. For this particular student, I offered to have a “dummy” requirement of a chapter a week due to me on Fridays. He was a little hesitant this would work, but agreed. I am thinking of setting up some system where all my writers could do this since many of them talked about the issue of not having a routine to follow.
On the other hand, my mentor text project with another student has really taken off. In fact, a student from a different project has, of her own volition, jumped in. She also struggles sometimes with the density of “novels of literary merit,” but wants to increase her reading acumen. It was heartening to see the two of them discussing what they liked and what they were looking for in books. With my guidance, they both found books to try out. It helps they have similar interests- historical fiction and romance. In an effort to help with this mentor/ladder text issue in secondary classrooms, I investigated the availability of a program that would help find books similar in lexile level and prose style. I want something similar to Pandora for music, but most of what is out there (Amazon, Goodreads) is more if you liked one genre, you would like these books. That is not really what I want. I want students to be able to reach to other areas for books with similar prose style, not necessarily genre. I did stumble across an interesting idea, the Book Genome Project.
It is called BookLamp, but it has apparently been bought by Apple and is no longer available. It is hypothesized Apple will use it to battle Amazon, but I would just like to check it out and see if it does what I am looking for. So far, it is the only program of its ilk that looks like it might satisfy my requirements. I did have the idea that I might propose to some of my app teams to try their hand at creating an app for novels based on the programming behind Pandora.
Some of the obstacles we have encountered thus far have to do with the general philosophy and current model of public school. I find it interesting that many systems have jumped on the STEM and Project-Based Learning train, but do not take the steps to encourage success for the classes that embrace it. I just sent an email to our Central IT department asking for some programs to be unblocked and others to be added to our school computers so students working on app creation projects and projects involving the 3D printer can be completed. Unfortunately, I have heard from my ITRT that he has been fighting this battle for over a year and the school system is unwilling to allow programs to be installed on school computers. Basically, the students who have their own resources to purchase home computers and software can participate in this type of learning, but those that cannot are at a standstill. Again, economics becomes a factor in public education. I have students excited about what they are doing, but are stymied in the Industrial Era model of schooling. I also find it interesting that we spend money purchasing new technology but then lock it down so much, it becomes useless. They want collaborative work, but provide spaces and equipment that are mired in a traditional school philosophy. Personally, my students will find some alleviation of these issues because of a mini-grant I was awarded through the National Writing Project, but that does not help other teachers who will face similar problems in trying out my project. I am not sure what the answer is, but you can’t have both a traditional school and an innovative curriculum. There has to be flexibility for this type of learning- flexibility in classroom environment, time allocation, curriculum and rules.