Monday, April 20, 2015

Project Nominations: a special post for #Rhizo15

Today was a big day in my classes: the students turned in nominations for their favorite projects this semester, and I tallied up the results, putting the projects with the most nominations on a ballot for the students to look through and then vote on. It's kind of like the Academy Awards: it's really hard for students to choose just a few to nominate, and then, when the ballot is done, it's also very hard to choose from the ones on the ballot. I would call that a good kind of hard, though: too much wonderful stuff to choose from!

Here is the page listing the nominations in the two classes I teach, Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics: Favorite Projects of Spring 2015. For those of you who enjoy Pinterest, I've also created a Pinterest Board where I've pinned these projects: Pinterest Board of Favorite Projects. The Myth-Folklore class is the bigger of the two classes, and it also has a higher proportion of Storybooks to Portfolios; that's why there are 9 Storybooks listed for Myth-Folklore, instead of just 6 as for Indian Epics; I'll explain more about that below. Also, there are still two more weeks of the semester, which means that some new stories are still being added to the projects — some are done, but some still have one more story to go!

Here's a screenshot of the Pinterest Board. I like Pinterest because it gives me a way to represent something visually rather than just with a list of text links; same stuff, different representation:


I have two goals for event: the first is to let students who have worked really hard on their projects get some well-earned recognition from their peers, and the second is to create one last opportunity for students to see some really excellent projects. I was also thinking this nominations process might be a good way to introduce my fellow adventurers in #Rhizo15 to my classes, so I've included some information below about just what these projects are and why I am so proud of them!

Storybooks and Portfolios. In both classes, the students read traditional legends and epics, and they then retell those old stories in new ways. Each week, they tell a story in their blog based on the reading they did that week and, in addition, they work on a semester-long project. The Storybooks and Portfolios are those projects. Some students choose a specific topic to explore all semester long, collecting several related stories in a Storybook. Other students choose the best of their storytelling blog posts and collect them into a Portfolio section of their blog. All the students brainstorm Storybook topics at the beginning of the semester, but if they are not really excited about how the project is developing after a couple of weeks, they can opt for the Portfolio instead. It's totally up to the students, and both options offer great possibilities. In Myth-Folklore this semester, there were 32 Storybooks and 19 Portfolios, and in Indian Epics there were 20 Storybooks and 19 Portfolios. You'll see that there is a larger proportion of Portfolios in the Indian Epics class; this is because the content of that course is really new to most of the students, while in the Myth-Folklore class, students often have a very specific idea for a Storybook project right from the start of the semester based on their personal interests in mythology and/or folklore.

Websites and Blogs. As you can see if you browse around, the Storybooks are websites (almost all the students use Google Sites, although occasionally a student might use Wix or something other web publishing option), while the Portfolios are blogs (again, almost all the students use Google Blogger, although there are sometimes a few WordPress blogs). When students do blog-based Portfolios, they can comment on each other's work using the blog comment feature. For the websites, though, the students comment on a "Comment Wall" that each student creates at their blog. So, every student does have a blog, and all the commenting takes place using the blog comment space; the "Comment Wall" links on the nominations list are there so that students know where to leave comments for the Storybook author.

Connected Students. One of the biggest challenges I face is finding good ways to get the students connected. The classes are big enough (appx. 50 students in Myth-Folklore and appx. 40 students in Indian Epics) that the students don't all get to know each other. I am the only person who reads all the stories at all the projects; the students read each other's stories every week, but even so they don't get a chance to visit all the projects, much less read all the stories at each one. The way I build the class network is by having students comment on each other's work every week using a combination of random groups and student choice. Each week, I put students in random groups of three so the students comment in a kind of round-robin in their group, giving comments to two other students and getting comments from them in return. They also have a free choice each week, choosing a project to read either based on the title of the topic or because they have connected with another student in class in some other way (they are also reading each other's blogs each week in addition to the project comments). Once the projects really get going, there are also extra credit options for students who want to read more projects; some students are really enthusiastic and curious about exploring the other students' work, which I think is great — the more the students can connect, the better!

Favorite Projects. That leads me to the big event of today: students nominating their favorite projects. As I mentioned above, one of my goals for this process is to give students a chance to see some excellent projects that they might not even have seen so far this semester! I'm always so curious to see which projects are popular favorites. Sometimes my own personal favorites get lots of nominations, but not always: everybody has their own likes and dislikes, and I think it's really important for students to get feedback from lots of readers, not just from me. One thing that makes me really happy is when I see students who were very hesitant writers get this recognition from their fellow students. Many of the students start off the semester unsure about writing creatively and hesitant to share their writing with others. When they find their voice and win over an audience, I am really excited for them!

You can probably see now why I feel so at home here in #Rhizo15: I believe very strongly that learning happens best by discovery (including self-discovery) and by sharing what we discover with others. I really want for my classes to be open-ended adventures in learning that are propelled by the learners themselves, and I've written elsewhere about why student-generated content is the most important content in my classes.

Meanwhile, if you have a few minutes to take a look at this semester's projects, I think you will be really impressed: just like every semester, I am so proud of what the students have accomplished this semester, and it's all a result of working together and sharing stories all semester long. Every semester is like this: so much goodness, thanks to the creativity and persistence of these wonderful students... Enjoy!

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