Saturday, 20 March 2010

Final Project Reflection

Setting up learning projects is like taking multiple diversions off the main path of a long hike up to a high mountain. At each signpost, you're compelled to stop and proceed down another (sometimes more challenging) path, then back to the main path. At any particular juncture, you might come across a captivating scene, which leads to further diversion. You might stop to take a photo, to better remember the scene. You might hear exotic birds or see strange plants or insects—and again another preoccupation ensues. You finally pull yourself away from the sight and make it back onto the main path. Along the way, and usually at a time when you find yourself scrambling up a slippery slope, you might come F2F with a fascinating person that you have to stop and talk to. Time slips away and the sky darkens, but you're not where you're supposed to be yet. You hurry along—only to find yet another signpost—a critical one as you're told to expect during the expedition. You proceed along one last side path—you recognize the value of this stop—you wouldn't feel fulfilled without having had this experience. You hurry back. You see the top as it starts to rain. You're tired, but driven to finish. You lift your foot up onto the final boulder ahead. The sky clears. The horizon offers the most spectacular view you have yet to see. Satisfaction ensues...

I might have got carried away with the trek analogy, but I do feel a need to divert and capture all the details to ensure that the project might work. I have learned that no matter the amount of planning and thinking that might go into a project, you have to be willing to abandon something, modify something, add something. You have have the students with you at every step and listen to their voices—their suggestions, their criticisms. You have to be willing to take risks, if you expect the students to. When working with English Language Learners (ELLs), you're tasked with two sets of outcomes: one the content, and two, the language. Have a look at the K-12 ESL Standards we've set out for ourselves as K-12 ESL teachers! How one captures the most salient outcomes for any particular task and really be able to measure growth is certainly one of the diversions to follow that hopefully leads to somewhere—i.e., the development of the second language (L2) proficiency. How to manipulate the tasks and the content within them to be authentic and meaningful is fundamental to any project? To ensure that students remain motivated and can employ learning strategies so that they forget that L2 learning is difficult as the 'adult' learners they are in high school? This hopefully happens when students are using technologies that have become commonplace to them and in which they feel comfortable already. It's amazing that now kids can talk with real experts via social networking and the myriad sites out there that would allow young people into a professional domain.

Presentation can also take on a new meaning. Presentations can be made public and posted on sites for others to peruse—like that of VoiceThread. This public product requires excellence be sought. Pride is associated with the product as it is public. Motivation again plays a role, and motivation is the key to good L2 success for ELLs.

Apart from all of this, all of the good things we educators want are at play in an online project such as this: the 'Six Facets of Understanding' that Wiggins and McTighe set out in Understanding by Design takes on with an applied meaning. Who could argue with 'self-knowledge,' certainly the highest of all learning and understanding. Let's hope that this Speak Project does offer students what it aims to do in terms of attaining a deeper understanding of collaboration and action, that ELLs are further developing their language discourse and proficiency, and let's further hope that this long trek up this mountain ends up with the same clear sky and fantastic views hoped for. But, if their are setbacks, falls along the way, the risk-taking has a value of its own, and I'm usually willing to go for it regardless.

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