Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's the Engagement, Stupid #sol15 Day 13




     They are never ready for their "Ready New York" books.   I call it their "favorite red book" but we all know it is their least favorite thing to do, aside from marking up words in Fundations.  I find it somewhat amusing that they are never ready to do "Ready New York" work and they are always disengaged doing "Engage NY" modules. 

     Our recent English Language Arts module centered around frogs.  Bullfrogs. Toads. Tadpoles.  Weeks and weeks of frogs.  The first book in the module, Bullfrog at Magnolia Creek, actually elicited boos and jeers when I attempted to pull it out for the 8th day in a row.  They were drawing a line in the sand and begging me to forgo the frogs.  New to third grade and the world of "modules" (the word alone strikes me as cold, futuristic, sci-fi-ish), I was trying to follow the handy-dandy script written for me on the Engage NY website, which tells me each time I open it that these are "Our students.  Their moment."  Well, MY students had too many moments of frogs and if they had tomatoes, I think I would have gotten hit with some while attempting to get them to "close read" yet another part of the bullfrog book.  I had to abandon ship.

Looking at the module, the "gist" seemed to be that researchers read many different types of texts when studying a topic to learn all they can about it.  I wanted my students to see the possibilities for wonder and learning that you find in nonfiction.  I decided to engage students in topics they care about and have them research and become an expert in something other than frogs.  

As you might guess, the interest, spark and, dare I say it- ENGAGEMENT- was through the roof.  I was impressed by their choice of topics, completely self-selected.  Amelia Earhart, Legos, the Titanic, Megladon sharks, Mexico, Manatees, Elephants, California, Karate...they all found something different to research, something they personally cared about.  After doing research in books and online, our fabulous librarian taught the students (and me) how to make Google Slides presentations.  If I thought they were engaged before, they were having that "moment" in a big way now.  They took to Google Slides like little digital native ducks to water.  Changing background color, inserting pictures, creating catchy headlines for each slide, they worked happily.  One student said to me, "This is the first time we did something not boring before lunch." (Thanks, Anthony).  But I kind of know what he meant.  

The fact is, students need choices and room to explore what they are passionate about while acquiring literacy skills.  You can jazz it up all you like by saying "READY NY" but who is ever ready to read a boring test preparation book with dry passages and complex, wordy multiple choice questions? And unless you REALLY love frogs an awful lot, would you be engaged in an Engage NY frog module that stretches for weeks and weeks on Kermit's ancestors?  

The day after we learned how to make Google slides, two of my students went home and created brand new ones on other topics they were interested in exploring.  This, to me, says it all about the relevancy to their lives, their curiosity and excitement for learning this new visual way to share information.  Nobody ever said, "Wow, I'm going to do more of these fun Ready NY lessons at home tonight."  But they did create new slide shows at home and were eager to share with their classmates.

Learning is social.  Learning needs to touch your emotions.  Learning needs to have an element of self-direction.  Learners need choices.  Creating something is a highly motivating way to show what you've learned and allow you to express your individuality.  Engagement....oops, I said it again.