My juniors just finished their quarter-long “Build-A-Unit” learning and are starting their final reflections. So, I’m reflecting, too.

Build-A-Unit is based on the idea of autonomy and responsibility.  I give the students six different options for what to study, they choose the one that interests them the most. Then they design and carry out their learning.

Step 1: Choosing an Area of Study

Student have six different areas to choose from:

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Analyzing Poetry’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue837′ font=’entypo-fontello’]

Students explore and discover information about the styles and devices of poetry.  Ideally this should include not only identification of poetic devices and figurative language, but also the use of and purpose of these techniques.

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Analyzing Media’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue80e’ font=’entypo-fontello’]

Media can include anything from social media to film to graphics.  Students examine the history of, purpose of, use of and popularity of media. It can also encompass the impact of media on modern society and the usage of media by different age/social groups.

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Analyzing Literature’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue84f’ font=’entypo-fontello’]

After picking a novel, students identified and dug deeper into the different literary devices used by authors.  This could include everything from examining the plot structure and character development to examining symbols and thematic development.

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Critiquing Texts’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue83f’ font=’entypo-fontello’]

This area of study could include anything from critiquing movies and games to opinion columns that critique more “serious” topics like politics.  Students discover and explore different critique methods and elements in order to ultimately be able to write (or film) their own critiques.

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Argumentation’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue83c’ font=’entypo-fontello’]

After looking at different areas where argumentation is used (law, politics, classes, personal discussions, etc.), students focus on the structure of arguments, rhetorical appeals and their effective usage, as well as logical fallacies and the use of logic.

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Satire’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue841′ font=’entypo-fontello’]

When studying satire, students watch or read satirical texts to identify what is being satirized and how it is being satirized.  Various types and elements of satire are examined and compared.

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We spent a week talking about and exploring each area briefly before students were asked to choose the one they were most interested in.  I encouraged them to choose the one they wanted, reminding them that if they picked their Area-of-Study based on what their friends wanted, they might end up really bored for an entire quarter.

Students could work on the learning process together, but their final product had to be individual.

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What I Would Do Differently

Next time I won’t offer analyzing poetry or literature because I found that those areas are ones that students need more direction to really analyze. With analyzing poetry, I found that my students got stuck with identifying figurative language and restating lines of poetry without ever going deeper into why certain devices and techniques were used or the deeper meaning of the poem. Analyzing literature was similar.
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Step 2: Planning the Unit

Once students decided on their Area-of-Study (AoS), they had to come up with a general overview plan for how they would use their six weeks.  Most decided that they would learn about their AoS for four weeks and use two weeks to complete their final project.

In addition to their general overview, students also had to propose a final product that would be worth 100 points.  I gave lots of ideas and tried to remind them of products and projects that they had completed in the past.

The last thing students needed to do each week to plan things was to update their Weekly Agenda.  I created a template for them on Google Docs.  They used their Google accounts to create a copy of it.  Then they used their share link (set to “Viewers with the link may Comment”) and posted it to a Discussion board on Haiku.  This made it super easy to check their agendas each week.  The setup was a bit of a beast, but once that was done, all students had to do was update their document.  Having the agenda gave the students a guideline for what to do each day (as long as they stuck to it).

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What I Would Do Differently

Next time I will give them some pre-created project ideas instead of giving them free reign.  For example, with critiquing texts I would offer two options for ways they could show what they know.  Then students could choose between my options or propose their own options.  This allows for autonomy and choice, but also makes sure that they’ll create or choose something that’s high quality.

Another thing that I would do different is to give them a list of terms, phrases, or concepts that they must include in their learning and final product.  One thing I discovered is that students often scratched the surface but missed some of the more important ideas.  For example, my students studying satire watched many satirical skits, but never explored the role that exaggeration, incongruity, reversal, and parody played in the point being made.  Students could explore other areas and ideas and applications, as long as they also hit on the key terms, phrases, or concepts given.  This would also give them a starting point for where and what to study, since this was also a challenge for them.  Since they didn’t know where to start, they got overwhelmed.

The agendas worked well, but some students struggled with creating concrete, measurable goals for each day and resorted to vague ideas (study poetry).  I’m not sure what I would do differently, other than spend a day writing and discussion goals so they could see the difference between well-written and poorly-written goals.

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Step 3: Tracking Learning

To track student learning, I had students do two things: write a daily wiki post about what they learned, and write a weekly blog post of their most important learning.

Wiki Posts

Each “group” of students who were focused on the same AoS kept a wiki together where they recorded what they learned each day.  Oddly though, this was one of the more challenging things to get done.  Even though I gave them the last 10 minutes to finish/post to the wiki, most of the time they didn’t actually do this.  At the end of the week, they’d post a summary of information, which wasn’t as useful when it came to their final products.

Blog Posts

Each student was required to do a weekly blog post (we mostly used Edublogs, although some students chose to use WordPress.com instead – read more about blogging with students here) where they answered a series of questions that were intended to help them explore the most important things they learned and what they needed to do next.

Edublogs

Edublogs

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What I Would Do Differently

This is a challenge because the wikis didn’t work as well as I’d liked, but I still think they are a valuable tool.  Maybe instead of having different wikis for each AoS, I will have one big wiki with different pages for each area of study.  I might also use a different tool to do the wikis.  We used the wiki tool built into Haiku, but I may explore other options, like Wikispaces, since it might make organizing things easier and more clear.

I loved the blogs, but I would definitely like to start those much sooner in the year so that by the time we get to the Build-A-Unit quarter, blogging isn’t so new to them.  That would give them more time to personalize their blogs, and it would allow them to branch out from using my prescribed questions.  I might also ask them to comment on each other’s blogs (after teaching the appropriate way to comment).

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Step 4: Showing What You Know

The final culmination of four weeks of learning was two fold: a final product which was submitted via Turnitin.com (or Youtube) and a presentation of their learning to the class.

The Final Product

The final products were… interesting.  Some were well done (even if not quite as they had originally envisioned them), and others were, well, not so well done.  You can review my notes above on what I would do differently, if you missed them.

Here are my grading criteria that I used when assessing their products:

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Depth of Knowledge’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue812′ font=’entypo-fontello’]

Depth of Knowledge: Final product demonstrates a deep and thorough understanding of analysis, critique, satire or arguments by explaining the parts of the analysis/critique/satire/argument and giving thoughtful, relevant, and detailed examples.  The significance of the technique used is explored, and the author’s purpose is considered and connected. (60%)

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Evidence of Effort’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue812′ font=’entypo-fontello’]

Evidence of Effort: Final product demonstrates great care and effort.  It is the product of extensive thought and planning.  It is eloquently presented and attractive.  Time and effort are evident in every facet of the product. (20 %)

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Method Used’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue812′ font=’entypo-fontello’]

Method Used: The method chosen to demonstrate knowledge is effectively used.  It is carefully crafted, following the conventions of the medium (film, print, etc.).  It uses images, media, and other visual elements to enhance the message.  It is well organized so that it effectively communicates with the reader/viewer. (10%)

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[av_iconlist_item title=’Conventions’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue812′ font=’entypo-fontello’]

Conventions: Proper grammar, spelling, syntax, and structure are used.  There are no mistakes. MLA-formatted citations are given for outside information used. (10%)

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The Final Presentation

This was, in many ways, a train wreck.  Students didn’t understand the difference between their product and their presentation.  This is my fault.  I didn’t think it through as thoroughly as I should have, assuming that students would be able to present using their product. The problem was, some of them turned in essays or poem analysis documents, which don’t really make for interesting presentations.

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What I Would Do Differently

Next time I’ll ever scrap the presentations entirely, or I will give very specific guidelines for each AoS for what I want to see in the presentation.  Some of the issues will be eliminated by removing Poetry and Literary Analysis as options, too.

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Student Example

Ready to see one project that turned out really well?  Enjoy!

Student Comments About the Unit

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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’A. P.’ subtitle=” link=’http://’ linktext=”]
For myself personally, having students design their own learning projects is a great way of learning. I’m a hands on learner and it is easier for me to learn by searching the web and writing wikis, or reviews, rather than to listen to a teacher lecture. This quarter I’ve accomplished more through this method of learning than I have in the past 3 quarters this year. I believe that it is a great way to allow students more freedom and also give them the responsibility to learn and do their own work, in the area of study they choose. I feel, for this to be an effective way of studying for all students (especially those who are renown for not doing their work), that there has to be stricter deadlines daily. For example, posting a wiki everyday of the week (Monday-Friday) is essential for your final grade, or you can have a certain number of wiki’s due by the end of the quarter, for example, you have 40 days to create 20 wikis to display what you’ve learned throughout the quarter
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’B.T.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
Overall, I think this project was a great success. Being able to chose the topic I studied made it much more interesting to me. I chose poetry because similar to art, I can express what I am feeling, or what I want to say though this form of art. I would definitely be open to choosing another topic I am interesting in and completing a project similar to this one. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about poetry and feel like I know a sufficient amount more than I did before.
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’N.S.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
In all honesty, this was one of my favorite project because it was so modular in that we can design the project to any way we want. I mean for my project I played video games and talked about them I think I really helped people discover how to critique and how to express their likes into any project they want. I also felt liked I learned a lot from other people to because they used really good examples for their projects. The only thing I did not like about the project was how extensive the blogs posts had to be, because some weeks I would just watch a video on a game I was thinking of critiquing, so I did not have a lot to write about. But I have accomplished a lot this quarter. This is one of the only projects  I entirely did all by myself and it is still one of my favorites.
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’Q.F.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
Overall I felt that this project was a success. The whole concept of having students design their own learning projects was a little confusing. Once I got passed the first week it began to come easy and I started to get the hang of everything. In the end I felt like I learned a lot but then again I felt that if I would have been taught the material by a teacher I could of learned more. If I could have done something different I would have paced myself better and not tried to learn as much stuff in one day as I did and instead give myself time to actually let the information sank.  I feel that this quarter was a success for me. All in all this was the best quarter I had all year. I felt that I was in more control of my grade this quarter then any of the pass quarters. I also actually enjoyed the topic of media which made learning it fun and interesting.
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’A.G.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
Personally I like designing my own product and my final. I feel it gives us the opportunity to make it our own and to show what we can do. I also feel that the time was good we had the perfect time.  I liked how we had to update the wiki it made it so much easier for us to make a final product out of that. I learned so much in so little time. The blog post were also fun and they encouraged you to research during the week. I feel like I did 100 times more than I usually do. I also like that I did my project alone its easier to keep track of everything. I feel like this quarter I have put much more effort than I usually do. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I liked seeing the results of my hard work. It makes everything better for me and my teacher.
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’T.T.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
In my opinion, The learning project is do a lot of help to me. To have student to do their own project is not so familiar to me. So at the beginning, i am so confuse about what i am going to do.  And i think it is really difficult for me, because in the past, teacher will give us the instruction of the project, i jest need to follow the step. For this time, i learn the knowledge by myself and choose the project i want to make. And i believe i know the argumentation by this process. overall, i think i did well in this quarter. And the project is new to me but i think i like it.

(Note: this student is an international boarding student, so please be lenient on the grammar/syntax.)
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’N.P.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
I believe that having us, the students design our own learning projects is very beneficial for us. By having us teach ourselves an area of study, we develop good study habits and learn to solve our own solutions to our problems. We need to be able to think for ourselves and also have to be capable of setting goals in which we will try to achieve. That’s what’s so promising about this assignment, we have to set goals each week for ourselves and achieve them, which will then lead us to successfully completing our final project. I feel that I learned a lot about media because before we started the assignment, I only really knew about social media and the news on TV. However, now I know all of the forms of media, the positive/negative impacts, its importance in the world, how it has grown, different ways to communicate with others, the age groups dominating social media right now, and much more. Honestly, I can’t think of anything that I would do differently in regards to the structure of this unit because it helped me prepare and it made me think for myself, rather than hearing a teacher tell me what to do. I feel that I’ve accomplished multiple things this quarter, not just learning about media. I accomplished how to set goals, how to achieve them, and how to be creative in displaying them. I didn’t just write a three page paper on media, I did an entire documentary about it. That’s what I feel that I’ve accomplished this quarter.
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[av_testimonial_single src=” attachment=” name=’R.F.’ subtitle=” link=” linktext=”]
I am in favor of students designing their own learning projects because the students are free to choose their favorite area of study and are able to create their own product based off on what they have learned. I feel that I learned a lot for this project because I learned many methods on advertising that I have not learned before and I was determined to learn more not because I had to, but I wanted to. In regards to the structure of Build-a-Unit, I would have not done anything differently. I liked how there was a weekly agenda to make sure you were on top of things and Wiki Projects that helped express what you have learned in that week. I feel that I have successfully learned a part of media that I have not known before and I can now see the effects of advertising whenever I come across a magazine or a TV ad for a popular product.
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