Teaching to Half a Class - and coming out feeling like a state politician...

Today I lost half of my classroom to a school-wide incentive party for good attendance - a wonderful celebration that left me with a confounding problem. In preparing for instruction, I thought to myself... what on Earth can I do with half a class that will keep them cognitively engaged without leaving the rest of my class behind? It turns out that the answer could be found (as usual these days) in our iPads... but this time (also as usual these days), the answer brought with it more questions.

We were able to go about "business as usual" for the first half of class. I taught a mini-lesson on the life cycles of stars and we did a short investigation. In the second half, we addressed the issue of our missing comrades. The students became the teachers. They were to create lesson plans and prepare to instruct their classmates on today's content. To do this, my students did some "backwards mapping" -- ie, they used the Backwards Design method of looking at our goals from today, then the assessment before creating their lessons.

We first discussed as a class what possible learning goals our classmates should take away from their lessons based what we had learned today. We then collaborated to create a Google Form assessment to be administered tomorrow. Finally, the students began to design "lessons" based on these goals and assessment for their absent classmates, using the iPad's Keynote App. (Each present student was to teach a specific absent classmate. Some were in triads, but the majority was a one-to-one student-teacher partnership. I had created these partnerships prior to today's lesson based on student learning styles, needs, IEPs, etc. Some had templates with which to begin, others had checklists, a few started with nothing but their notes from the lesson.) As the children lesson planned, they determined what their classmates need to know, how to formatively assess them throughout the lesson and the best way to convey the needed information.

Next came the difficult part: Assessing my newly hatched "teachers."
I explained to the class that their final grades would be a combination of two scores:
  • 67% of their final grade would come from their Keynote presentation. 
  • The remaining 33% contributing to their final grade would be whatever score their "student" earned on tomorrow's test. 
As I said this aloud to my students - and watched as some grew elated by the challenge and others frustrated by it - I realized that in molding my students into mini-teachers, and trying to figure out how to incent them to "perform," I'd become a state politician. Just as our state grapples with the conundrum of teacher evaluation, I had created a microcosm of this within my own classroom. As I finished explaining the project, I began to falter. Was this fair? Did it even make sense? I looked out at my half-class and saw that many seemed excited by the project. A few had even gotten started without my all-powerful "You May Begin." I had thoughtfully created the pairings of students... I had considered how IEP accommodations and modifications would fall into play - both on the student and the teacher side - and addressed both... I felt like I had all the angles pretty worked out... yet something still didn't feel right about the whole thing. For the time being, I decided to let it go and let it become another "trial" in my constantly evolving classroom.

Only tomorrow will tell if it turns out to be a "trial & error" or something else....

I welcome any ideas or suggestions for assessing future iterations of this lesson!

NOTE: A follow up to this post can be found here (posted June 3, 2011)
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