Last week, I obsessed over what I was going to write this blog post about. Then I obsessed over whether or not to write a post. I had a lot going on in my head, I had a bunch of potential topics, and I kept thinking of opening sentences, but I ended up not writing it. I kept putting other things first: schoolwork, walking, playing games on my phone—pretty much everything came first so writing came last.
This week I decided I had better write or else I’d lose the momentum I’ve had since the beginning of the semester. Plus, writing helps me, and I have so much going on that I need to process it.
These last 2 weeks, I had my students working on group projects. I asked them to choose 1 group member’s essay and “illustrate it” or bring it to life in some way. They had a ton of choices, some samples from my past classes and 2 weeks to work on it.
The 2 weeks culminated into a presentation, which happened Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The quality of the projects was all over the board.
On the lower quality end . . . .
I had asked students to practice reading their essays before they presented, and it seemed to me some groups hadn’t. Students who read their group members’ essays mispronounced words that the original writer probably would have corrected them on if they had practiced. Others had awkward pauses while reading, and ok, I overheard a member of one group say, “I’ll read it” as if the group hadn’t made that decision until that moment.
Part of the problem has been student absences. One day 2 of the 4 group members would be there, the other day different group members would be in class. Often, there’d be 1 or 2 group members who were in class every day, but 1 or 2 of the others wouldn’t be so they didn’t feel like they could move forward.
On the higher quality end . . .
Other projects were thought-provoking and clever. One group actually acted out and recorded 2 scenes to illustrate their point. When I tell students they could create a skit, that’s usually the first thing they rule out. I get that though. It takes courage to do something that is so vulnerable.
Another group recorded themselves reading the essay while someone clicked through some slides they had created to illustrate their essay. This was the first time a group did that as well—I had to figure out how to play the recording and pull up the slideshow on the computer at the same time. It was really easy overall, but it was the first time I had to do that.
For one group’s presentation, the writer read his paper aloud while projecting some photos that corresponded with the concepts in the paper. The paper was about becoming an independent thinker, so it wasn’t so easy to find pictures that connected to the idea. However, the students copied and pasted some of the writer’s sentences in an AI picture generator, and the pictures that resulted were really cool.
I hadn’t caught that the pictures were AI generated at first, so I asked the group where they got them, and then they explained it. I’m going to have to ask the students the website name so I can use it or refer students to it in the future.
I had given the groups 2 weeks to work on this project, along with some smaller assignments along the way. I realized many didn’t use the full amount of time and when a group member or 2 was absent, the other group members didn’t use any of the time I gave them to work on the group work because they thought they all needed to be together. In short, more students were bored than I would have liked. And sure, it’s students’ responsibility to do the work; it’s my responsibility to set up a project that can be worked on even when things out of our control (absent students for example) are eminent.
My plan is to re-think the assignment for next semester. I am currently thinking that I can have groups do something simpler in a day or 2 at most (and 2 days or class periods would be a week of classes) and move on from there. That would leave less time and opportunity for the types of groups that really put a lot into it, but it would allow students to experience the essays “coming to life” without the wasted time. Another option is for me to offer more expectations for the project to bring up the quality. The main problems I see are lack of student attendance and lack of willingness to engage with each other, the former being a widespread problem I will likely not be able to solve and the latter happening really sporadically.
I’m going to develop some sort of reflection activity in hopes that students can figure out for themselves what they think went well and didn’t go so well while creating their projects.
Peace Out (And In),