As documented in my previous post, Escaping Education’s Cave of Apathy With Genius Hour, my World Literature and Composition classes have committed one hour per week to explore our individual passions. We launched our mission with a challenge to attack the destructive apathy that spreads throughout a high school—especially following the first semester of a school year. During our most recent genius hour, I created a simple Google form to collect feedback from my students. Their responses to seven weeks of genius hours are overwhelmingly positive. Student voices are considerably more powerful than reading an educator’s observations, so I have decided not to write this post. Instead, I am going to let my junior geniuses do the work (despite the anxiety of the ACT test looming at the end of their chaotic week).
I think that genius hour is awesome, it’s a nice break and escape of the regular school schedule of just sitting in class and continuously learning about subjects you have no say in partaking. It’s great to be able to choose what you want to learn about and research.
I really enjoy this time!
I think this is a great idea.
I enjoy genius hour.
Genius hour is awesome.
Enough said…but there’s more.
NEVER ENOUGH TIME IN OUR BUSY LIVES
Genius hour gives us a fun hour to help explore what we want to explore. The trouble with today is that there are never enough hours in the day, and by having this hour once a week gives us a little time to get to find what we really want. Genius hour is very helpful once a week.
I think it’s a great idea. It gives me time to do the things I love to do, even when I don’t have the time on my own, and to even increase my skill in what I love to do.
I like genius hour a lot. I think it gives students the ability to work on their projects for this class. I also think that more teachers should start doing this because sports nowadays seem to take up more and more of our time outside of school. It seems to me like all teachers would suggest/require a minimum of 30+ minutes of work on that subject every night. Some classes prefer even more than that! With golf currently lasting until around 6:00 every night, I have found myself all of a sudden staying up until around midnight and sometimes beyond. I can understand why teachers would like us to work hard on all 6 or 7 subjects every night, but there are times where that is not physically possible. I really respect genius hour and I am proud to say that I use it to its fullest extent.
A STRESS-FREE ENVIRONMENT IS VITAL FOR MENTAL HEALTH & WELL BEING
I really enjoy Genius Hour and I think it really helps me relax about the stressors in life and it lets me do what I want and look up things that interest me and make me happy in life, which is a pleasure that I don’t get very often.
I really appreciate Genius Hour. Not only do I have valuable time to research something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but it is relaxing and stress relieving as well.
It is relaxing and calming. It’s nice to have some time to ourselves during the school day.
I really enjoy Genius hour. Good way to end the week in a more relaxed, independent way, researching topics of interest.
RESPECT = AUTONOMY TO PURSUE PASSIONS
I really like genius hour, as it gives us a chance to learn about something that we never had a chance to in any other class. It gives us complete freedom over learning about what really interests us.
I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn about something we are interested in. It is also nice to be able to learn about what I want.
I think it’s nice to finally learn about something I want to learn about.
I have enjoyed Genius Hour and I like working on my own and doing my own thing. I can work at my own pace doing what I want to accomplish for my blog.
I really enjoy doing genius hour because it gives us a chance to do what we are interested in and finding ways to help around the community and future generations.
I think it is a good “project” to do. It gives us the ability to do what we want and be free and if people don’t take advantage of that freedom it is a very successful activity.
I’ve really enjoyed and looked forward the class period each week where I get to explore something that interests me. It is a nice break from school and all the pressure to do what is expected/required of us. It can get so tiresome being forced to do things that don’t interest me at all.
I love it!! I look forward to having time to study things I want instead of being told what I have to study like every other class.
STUDENTS APPRECIATE LEARNING & DISCOVERY THROUGH INDEPENDENT EXPLORATION
I very much enjoy the independent learning opportunity. It is very interesting and inspiring.
I enjoy having an hour to myself to research topics that spark my interest.
I feel that this has helped me improve my overall knowledge.
I think it’s amazing to learn about musicians and bands because music is a very important piece of my life.
It is fun to go through Tumbler and build a fan base! I really enjoy the website, even though GHS has decided to block it, I am getting around that by going through my Data Plan even though it takes up a lot of data… I am willing to sacrifice that to further this project!
Personally, I think this is what everyone needs. A lot of people I feel are looking to focus on what they want to do in the future career wise. Also, giving kids the option to study, explore, practice, and work on what THEY find interest in can show their work potential. My overall opinion on Genius Hour is it’s genius. I think this was a great idea and maybe see it as evolving into something bigger for kids to further explore their future career or an interest of some sort. I suppose my view of it is from the career and future aspect of Genius Hour but none the less, it’s a fantastic idea.
Genius hour is a genius idea.
Thank you for the opportunity to do this!
I loved the idea. It gave everyone an incentive to study something they truly care about in class periods. I wish we did this more often because I think students would enjoy school more often if we continually did things like this.
And there you have it. Kids these days…
- are creative, passionate, and worthy of respect
- share their inner genius when given time and opportunity
- continue to impress and inspire me
*Part 3 of my Genius Hour posts will address specific projects. Prepare for mind-blowing awesomeness.
“I’ve just given up. The pressure is too much. I need to feel numb in order to block the pain.” The haunting silence was suffocating as the air escaped the classroom.
Ever wonder what’s on the mind of a seventeen-year-old high school student? Ask one. Then listen. If enough trust has been established within a classroom community, juniors will share. But be warned. Prepare for a dose of reality the adult world tends to overlook or ignore.
Arguably the most significant question I have ever asked a class was a simple, spontaneous journal prompt earlier this year: What are the top ten sources of stress in your life?
The common responses included: grades, constant homework, high school drama, the upcoming ACT test, expectations of AP courses, prom, need money, pressure from parents, job responsibilities, time management, friends, stereotypes, college searching, being judged, extra-curricular activities, and lack of time. There is not enough time to balance everything—including sleep.
Third quarter is ideal for this conversation. The class has likely conquered the challenges of first semester and everyone’s voice has emerged. This is when I facilitate a thematic unit focused on “the quest for personal fulfillment,” which promotes highly reflective thought in World Literature and Composition. We begin the unit with a study and analysis of our individual learning styles—particularly, how our learning styles impact our educational experience.
The literary study opens with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” one of my favorite literary pieces (thus the reference to Form of the Good, the title of my blog site). As we read and share insights about the dialogue, I urge students to release any preconceived notions about their mindset and approach learning from a new perspective for a glimpse of enlightenment. The guiding questions include: “What are some ‘caves’ in your life in which you might be or feel ‘imprisoned?’ How might you be liberated from the restrictive limits of the cave?”
How can we expect students to invest in our class for 50 minutes before a bell signals another mindless transition in their day—a day in which they must also face the stress of a job, expectations of parents, social pressure from peers, and the workload of each class, including advanced placement courses? Add the anxiety of time restraints, lack of sleep, and grades, and the picture becomes clearer. Adolescents are caught in a race to adulthood, where external forces rush their emotional maturity, but offer little choice in the process.
We might complain about students’ apathy and their lack of engagement (How can they not care about anything?), but it is not to be taken personally (they assure me). My students recognize the efforts of their teachers—passionate educators—and the attempts to create exciting lessons and fun class activities.
Classroom learning is simply not a priority in their busy day. According to my juniors:
We have experienced years of seeing no success, no reward for our efforts, and are not held accountable—especially on standardized tests. Why even try? In class, we are commanded to be quiet and learn. Then told to talk to others and learn. [The voice of teachers] loses effect over time. We need down time that is not dictated…and not be preached at by hypocritical adults. So, it is just easier to go through the motions with a sense of numb…it’s easier when I feel numb.
Powerful words. They trusted I would listen and I did. The next day, I greeted class with this prompt.
Genius hour was officially launched in Room A15.
I have since monitored progress and collected feedback from students. I will post student projects and the positive response to genius hour soon.
Perfection may be a lofty goal in a chaotic school day, but on our quest for mastery, I expect students to:
- “Determine the central ideas of a text”
- “Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content”
- “Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research”
- “Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole”
- “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience”
I am not superhuman—I am a teacher of high school English and the communication arts.
Whether we use the formal language of the Common Core or make the standards more student friendly, these are daily expectations in most language arts, literature, and composition classes. The purpose of English language arts courses is to develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills so students become insightful, creative, empathetic citizens—a worthy cause. Best wishes and keep up the good work, English Language Arts department.
Of course these concepts are addressed in language arts classes; however, according to the Common Core State Standards, the aforementioned list is now the shared responsibility of teachers in all content areas. In fact, these examples are quoted from the science and social studies Common Core Standards—not from language arts. Naturally, the expectations have been received with mixed reactions, primarily due to the insecurity of teachers uncomfortable with their ability to “teach” writing.
To alleviate the anxiety, I recommend “Two Perfect Sentences,” a versatile approach to assessing students’ understanding of content, while holding them accountable for the craft of writing. The strategy is as simple as—and may be used as—an exit or entrance slip.
Each student receives a slip of paper with one sentence on it (I prepare enough so no more than three students have the same sentence). Typically, the statement is an academic thought about a selected chapter, article, or excerpt of assigned reading. For example:
Juliet unknowingly foreshadows her impending doom.
Siddhartha recognizes the downfall of humans competing in the material world.
The directions state:
- Find evidence from _____(the text)______ to support the statement.
- Practice integrating the “directly quoted evidence with fluency, while adding the appropriate in text citation” (author’s last name page#). Pay attention to punctuation.
- Then, add one more sentence of analysis to clarify or highlight the significance of the information. This is your chance to make a connection and show critical thinking.
- Two perfect sentences will be assessed on the following criteria: ___________________________
Teachers have the freedom to adjust the focus on specific areas of emphasis, which should be communicated with students in advance. I always check for content understanding, making sure the evidence is logical and the argument is coherent. Quote integration and fluency is also simple for any reader to assess. Do the sentences flow smoothly or is the writing mechanical?
At this point, I hold students accountable for proper formatting of in-text citations. While language arts teachers prefer MLA format, they applaud any efforts to see appropriate use of content area citations. All teachers have written research papers throughout their education; therefore, they should feel comfortable requiring students to credit a source.
Having limited the task to two sentences, there are nonnegotiable expectations of writing conventions, such as punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and usage (I add tense and point of view here). If students receive a consistent message from all teachers, the quality of writing will improve.
Variations, Results, and Teachable Moments
A simple variation is to supply the quote and have students provide a main point before the evidence. This forces students to draw conclusions from the text. The activity may be done in small groups (competitively), with a partner, or individually (especially to check for learning).
Students are undaunted by the challenge of composing two sentences. The word “perfect” simply narrows their focus on detail and craft. They do not have to worry about organization or content development—although many ask if they may write more.
Teachers do not have to stress about increasing their workload by collecting long writing assessments. Missing work is not an issue; this is easily made up after students return from an absence.
Two Perfect Sentences is an ideal formative assessment. Teachers may survey student understanding with efficiency and provide immediate, specific feedback. I often walk around and check for perfection before I accept a submission, especially at the outset of class. I do not provide answers, but I will comment on the criteria not yet proficient. Students revise in front of me or ask their peers for advice—simple, effective peer editing practice.
When used as an exit slip, this strategy guides planning for the following day by organizing differentiated instruction. The learning process is easy to track using the Two Perfect Sentences approach.
We acknowledge the art of writing is never perfect, while the teaching of writing is certainly an imperfect art. In a world of increasing expectations and accountability, let’s work toward mastery two sentences at a time.
The question resonates across the battlefield (Room A15) and echos throughout the high school hallways: Will the Greeks win honor, or will the Trojans rewrite history? Forget about Friday night’s upcoming game or what so-and-so said about whomever on social media. There is glory to be won in World Literature this week…
Upon completion of reading The Iliad, juniors in my English classes know a war is about to be waged, with reputations and lasting fame on the line. Here is the prompt to The Epic Paper, an engaging, versatile writing strategy that could be adapted to any content area:
The Epic Paper
“How does Homer portray the concept of HONOR in The Iliad?”
You, the epic hero, have received the call to adventure. After years of training for this moment, your mission is simple–accept the call and prepare for battle. With national pride and individual honor at stake, you must win everlasting glory and fame; your name will be remembered amongst the gods and your words immortalized upon Mount Olympus.
Enter battle armed with a formal essay loaded with critical thought about the concept of HONOR in The Iliad. Simply refer to your concept map to guide your writing, and, if necessary, seek inspiration from the Muse.
[Your basic thesis would look something like: “Homer portrays honor through ___________, __________ , and ___________.” You fill in the blanks and develop paragraphs supporting each aspect of honor.]
Anonymously type [double space, size 12, Times New Roman, 1 inch margins] your paper and hand it to Grade-Slaying Durst by __________. Do not allow hubris, foolish pride, or cowardice to blind you—this ignorance will lead to your demise, and ultimately be the cause of your team’s downfall.
This is war! May the strong survive!
Here are the major stages in the process once all of the papers are collected and randomly coded with a number and color so I will be able to identify the paper and its writer–but fate determines the teams. Anonymity provides a level of comfort for everyone, particularly the insecure writers. Let it also be noted that a Greek paper will remain on the Greek side but never cross paths with its writer.
Phase 1: Preparation for Battle
*Papers have been collected and divided into armies
3 Greek Armies = Blue, Green, and Purple
3 Trojan Armies = Orange, Yellow, and Red
*Each army must select the top two papers in their camp (defend your selections based on the writing rubric standards)
*Write comments on each paper
*Then have discussions to determine the top 2 papers
1) Complete a rubric for papers not advancing–these will enter 1 on 1 combat
2) In pairs, become the experts on the paper you want to take into battle!
Phase 2: 1 vs 1 Combat–Each pair of students per camp take the leftover papers (those which did not place in to top two) into direct combat around the classroom, Greek vs. Trojan. In these battles, even the weakest papers get defended for their positive qualities.
*Determine a winner of each WRITING STANDARD on our rubric
1) Content & Critical Thinking
4) Language, Voice, & Tone
#/5 = WINNER!
Phase 3: Championship Rounds of Battle–The top six papers from both sides of the classroom now enter a round-robin tournament in which each Greek paper battles each Trojan paper. Every battle is organized according to the criteria of different writing standards.
BATTLE #1: INTRODUCTION AND THESIS
Which paper has a more engaging introduction ending with a highly developed thesis?
BATTLE #2: CONCLUSION
Which conclusion leaves the reader with a greater sense of resolution and closure?
BATTLE #3: LANGUAGE AND WORD CHOICE
What paper uses exceptionally rich, lively, and precise language to enhance meaning?
BATTLE #4: CONVENTIONS AND USAGE
1) complete sentences 2) 3rd person point of view 3) present tense 4) pronoun agreement 5) punctuation and capitalization
DAY 3–BATTLE #5: FLUENCY
1) Seamless and purposeful quote integration
2) Sentence variety
3) Creative, varied, and smooth transitions within and between sentences
BATTLE #6: CONTENT AND CRITICAL THINKING
1) Excellent understanding of subject matter
2) Appropriate evidence and examples to support the thesis
3) Answers the question expertly
And there you have it…the 4th hour Trojans rewrote history, while the 5th hour Greeks did not even need a wooden horse to defeat the Trojans this year.
Phase 4: Written Reflection–In addition to the formative feedback I receive while walking around the battlefield, at the end of the epic paper war I have students write a reflection to verbalize their learning and provide me with more valuable feedback.
1) How did this activity challenge your critical thinking skills?
2) What did you learn about the craft of writing as a result of this activity?
Their responses recognize the benefits of our epic approach to a typical English class writing assignment. A majority of responses mention the intensity of competition and the challenge of defending someone else’s writing. What they are really saying is that because everyone is engaged in a class activity, they must be on their game–preparation, quick thinking, and strategy are necessary to defend a logical argument referencing specific examples (sounds Common Core friendly). Other comments highlight thinking deeper about the content of The Iliad and finding a new level of respect for some of their classmates’ talents.
The immediate impact on their writing includes such responses as learning new strategies for analyzing literary themes, effective (yet simple) changes to make throughout the writing (and thought) process, the significance of vocabulary on the delivery of content, and the importance of supporting a solid thesis with credible evidence. I read several thoughts about spending more time on analysis, less on summary (thank you!). One student concluded, “I have to write as if I am the reader. I have to make the reader enthusiastic about reading my essay, and understand my thoughts better.” One boy called the craft of writing, “…a powerful tool,” while another articulated, “The craft of writing is like art–everyone has different styles and some people are stronger than others, but in different areas.” Wow. Whose students are these?
As proud as those responses make me, I am most impressed with my students’ new respect for the efforts of their teachers. Many reflections mentioned the time-consuming challenge and “strenuous process” of assessing writing. Yes, minions…yes. Because readers were forced to evaluate standards separately, they gained a greater understanding of our writing rubric–that multiple factors must be considered in assessing the quality of a work. This should provide a clearer appreciation of my standards-based approach to grading, as I attempt to guide their learning toward a growth mindset (material for a future post!).
Organizing such an activity takes plenty of time and effort on the front end, but celebrating our writing in a competitive game–especially early in the school year–transforms attitudes and builds confidence for future assessments. My juniors are epic heroes–battle-tested and eager for the next quest.
“I now understand how papers are graded and I can make future papers better in multiple ways. I feel that my own writing will benefit because of this activity.”
That is honorable.
By seventh hour of the school day I have expended a considerable amount of energy—always engaged, in the moment, “on”—greeting, coaching, moving around the classroom, explaining, preparing for the next class period, exchanging, collecting, organizing, and reorganizing. Does any of this sound familiar?
After teaching five classes and supervising a study hall, I finally get a few moments to sit and reflect at the end of my school day. Early in the school year I committed to increase communication with parents and end each day on a positive note to avoid dragging negativity home to my family. Therefore, as often as possible, I dedicate the first ten minutes of my seventh hour prep period to email praise to the parent of a student who did something noteworthy. Continue reading
Proud Father…Concerned Teacher
Naturally, the father in me is proud to share a photo of my 3rd grader lost in a book. Although my son excels at math, understands numbers, and absorbs statistics, Maddox loves to read. He is a logical, rational, concrete thinker, so my English teacher persona smiles every time Maddox says he is going to bed early to read for thirty minutes.
The English teacher hesitates to admit the unorthodox methods used to instill Maddox’s early success as a reader. Many of his first words were read off the ESPN ticker scrolling across the bottom of the television screen (we skipped most educational programming in favor of sports in our house…guilty). After mastering team names and major universities, Maddox moved on to the sports page of the morning newspaper. He would find an article that looked appealing and circle all the words he recognized. Of course, he kept word count stats at the bottom of each column. Who needs lexile scores?
Of course, my wife and I read stories to Maddox and introduced him to traditional children’s books, but reading was and continues to be something he explores independently because he wants to. Maddox is also a role model for his sister, a kindergartner who aspires to do everything like her big brother. Watching her follow his lead is most encouraging from a parent’s point of view. My children should be avid readers and healthy learners, yet I anticipate conflict along the way.
I am grateful for Maddox’s positive elementary school experiences with teachers who instill a love of reading beyond carpet-time sessions–educators who invest the time to introduce my son to new books based not only on reading level, but on their knowledge of his interests. They provide opportunities and present challenges, knowing he will reach and likely exceed their expectations.
As soon as Maddox’s third grade teacher recognized his competitive spirit, she challenged him to select from the shelf of higher-level, more complex chapter books; predictably, Maddox attacked it. He began with one series at a time and has not slowed down. I know this sounds like parental bliss, so what’s the problem?
The experienced (realistic, slightly cynical) English teacher in me fears the worst–a gradual decline in my son’s love of reading as a result of misguided motivation and purpose. I have witnessed this downward trend in so many students as they approach high school and no longer want to read books (even given freedom to select an independent text). Now that I’m a parent, I am gaining an insightful perspective of potential sources of ruin.
Maddox currently selects each Accelerated Reader book according to its points rating, reads the book, takes a ten question quiz, and rushes home with a print out of his performance. He needs six out of ten correct answers to pass, but the competitor expects a perfect score. These recall questions can be unnecessarily fastidious; they do not engage complex thinking or stimulate a reader’s passion. It has been a challenge to convince him that his scores of eight or nine out of ten are most acceptable as long as he is comprehending (and enjoying) what he reads. The magic printer confirms Maddox is reading well above grade level–praise that inspires him to conquer the next book on the shelf–and the cycle repeats.
I encourage and support my son’s third grade quest to read one million words–an awesome milestone–but cannot hide my concern for the day Maddox does the math and tires of the ten-point reading game. He, like so many others, will discover shortcuts to undermine the system. Students of all ability levels master this skill at an early age (too bad that doesn’t get assessed nationally).
My wife and I are well aware of society’s test-
crazeddriven obsessions and will continue to make learning something special in our house. But what about the students and parents who do not have the advantage of identifying flaws in the system from the inside? They are unprepared for and unknowingly persuaded by sales pitches of political and educational jargon spewed in conferences or on the news–bombarded with Common Core speak, standardized test scores, charts, benchmarks, acronyms, lexiles, grades, trend lines, and national percentiles.
With little explanation or background knowledge, this is overwhelming. The numbers couldn’t possibly lie. Translation: apply label to
robot student immediately, accept without question, and have a pleasant day.
Thankfully, I’m a parent and an educator.