Last week I talked about meeting students in the 21st century. Well, one of our own teachers is doing just that. Mariah Rios teaches 9th and 10th grade English. She invited me in to see her 10th-grade students in the midst of an activity involving Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The first ever performance of The Tempest was in 1611. So how, exactly, is this post about 21st-century learning? Mariah used three magic ingredients: Choice, Technology, and Creativity.
Let’s start with one of the most important factors. Mariah designed a lesson that allows students to have choice in the design of their end product. I understand the power of choice because I use it often with my own children. When I am going to make them lunch, I ask if they would like a sandwich or pasta. If I had just asked, “What do you want?” my kids would have been all over the place. Too much choice can sometimes be overwhelming. But when we are given options, we feel like we have control and we have focus. This is a great strategy for classroom teachers as well. Mariah had a large task. In order for her students to understand the language of Shakespeare, they had to make meaning of the text. The assignment she designed allowed students to struggle with language and then apply their new understanding to something they create. Students were to focus on a section of the play and translate the scene into a new setting. The setting could be real or fictional. They were given three choices which will be outlined in the next section. Take a look at the beginning of the assignment below.
As mentioned, Mariah gave students three options: a performance, a text message thread, or a blog/vlog. All of the choices required students to use technology in some way. In college and in 21st-century workplaces, employees are required to use technology in many different ways. We need to build in many opportunities for students to use tech effectively. Another constant beyond the use of tech is that students were to write as a means to demonstrate their understanding of the text. Even students who chose a text message thread between characters were writing and revealing whether or not they understood what they read. Not all writing has to be formal.
Giving students choice leads to engagement. Allowing students to use technology does the same. Giving them creative control over the product and how to execute is the final magic ingredient. As I walked around Mariah’s classroom I heard students fully engaged in the process of creation. They were collaborating and they were abuzz with ideas. It reminded me of what it must be like to be marketing executives. I picture a group of people gathered around a table, working on a single idea. The group would be tasked with taking a product and creating a new narrative for it, one that would sell to audiences. In the business world, our students will one day find themselves in situations where they will need to communicate with others, clearly express their ideas, and be creative in their approaches.
Mariah is preparing students for a world where their ideas matter. She gave them the structured choice, the technological tools, and the creative freedom to not only demonstrate understanding but also to design something brand new. She has entered the world of the student and then brought that world into the classroom. Magic followed.
What ways can you engage students with choice, technology, and creativity in your own classroom?