The Smartest Person in the Room is… the Room.

It’s about five minutes before my Modern World class starts. I feel like I’m taking a risk with today’s plan. I am having groups present their models of how to measure power in the world in the early modern era and today. None of the groups have really finished, and I think there are some problems with each of their models. I decided not to intervene, but to allow students to work through the problems and discover them. They will present drafts today, gather feedback, and then have another week to improve/complete the project.

Now – class has started. I gave them my schpiel about how they will all learn more if they help each other. They will have fifteen minutes to prepare to present their draft to the class. Each member of the class will be responsible for filling out a feedback sheet for each group. There are specific prompts about visual appeal, information, complexity, and then overall commendations and recommendations. They will sign their names to those sheets. I’ll make a copy for me and then distribute the feedback to the groups. I really want them to come together on this. I’ll finish the post later, after the presentations.

Later – class is over. The groups worked very hard to prep for the presentations. Then, each group presented. It took me a few extra minutes to round them up to get started, so we ended up running a little short on time. Still, they were each able to articulate their models well, and they shared their content. At the end, they could ask for help with what they recognized as challenges. There was definitely positive response from the audience. They made some great suggestions. I just read the feedback sheets and clear patterns emerge for each group.They took me seriously – noting the positive features of each, the aspects that didn’t work so well, and ways that the groups could move forward.

From my perspective, it worked well – except that we did not really have enough time. I should have expected them to be prepared when they got to class, instead of telling them they would have fifteen minutes at the beginning of class. We could have used all of the time constructively for presentations and comments. There is a lot of quality feedback on the sheets, although some students were a little too brief. We will work on that.

Next steps – they have next week to make adjustments and finish the projects before we display them. I will work with the groups to help facilitate the revisions. I was going to provide feedback sheets from me, but after reading through what the students wrote, I don’t have much to add. I will provide my thoughts as they are making changes.

All in all – I’m really happy with how it went. We are on our way to becoming a learning community.

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The Acknowledgment Page: Nobody Writes Alone

At the start of my US history classes today, I handed each student a different history book. They guessed a variety of reasons I was doing it – to help them with citations, to look at authors and publishing dates, to help them with their research papers, to read as a break from their research papers, to practice writing annotations. They were locked in on the fact that the Annotated Bibliography is the next phase of their research paper, with preliminary research questions due today.

They were wrong. I asked them to find the Acknowledgment section and read it. We talked about how the author still had claim to the work but enlisted the support and expertise of others along the way. I asked them to talk about the type of help that is appropriate and what goes too far. They talked about sharing sources, giving moral support, and helping with grammar and spelling as okay. We also decided it was fine to share information.

The research paper is an important part of the US history curriculum, but it is too easy for students to isolate themselves. I want them to practice the real world skills of consulting with others and getting feedback, testing their ideas out as they are forming them, and asking for help when they need it. One student pointed out that it would be too much to have someone edit your sentences; we decided that leaving comments on a Google Doc is okay, but editing is not. In the end, the decisions and responsibility fall with the author.

I plan to give them class time to work in small groups talking about their research and providing some guidance to one another. My goal today was to open their minds to this sort of collaboration. I have done the small group sharing in the past, but often kids see it as something to get through so they can get back to work. I want them to value the conversations as part of their work.

This is a gray area for students, but it seems really important. Their work will be stronger if they share it out. Being the person with the knowledge to share is a valuable experience as well. My hope is that by taking them into the gray area of consulting with others, they will feel better about the final product they can produce. On one level, it takes them closer to the line of academic integrity, but at the same time, giving them the permission to seek help from a variety of places gives them an incentive to operate honestly.

They asked if they would have to include an Acknowledgment page with their paper. I do think that I want to have them include on as part of their final reflection if not as part of the paper.