Re-envisioning projects to increase engagement and highlight student talent.
Spanish Teacher, Lakota West High School
Are you a fan of a restaurant with a large menu or a food truck with 3 items to choose from? In the language classroom, there is a balanced way to provide students with options in how they demonstrate their learning while still not overwhelming them with too large of a menu. Student choice is a valuable way to increase student engagement in high school, which is notably the most likely time that students become disinterested. The first and hardest step in doing this is to let go of the notion that all of the products created by students will be uniform and easy to assess. Once you’ve released that control, set the students free and watch creativity bloom!
Recently, a Spanish I travel project was re-envisioned with the help of the school’s innovation specialist to add choice and student reflection. Both of these additions gave students ownership of their work. The end result was beautiful, and students beamed with pride as they presented their projects to the class. Students were tasked with the job of becoming travel agents and presenting a travel experience to one of the 17 regions in Spain. The rubric included 9 important aspects of the region that would be beneficial to the traveler, but students had a choice in how they created their travel package. In addition to options on the choice board, students could also come up with an idea that wasn’t on the choice board and get approval from the teacher. As long as they covered the required elements, it was likely to be accepted. Projects ranged from video commercials to posters to brochures, and even a website was created! Multiple digital tools were utilized, and students leveraged technology, collaboration, and creativity and presented their projects to the class.
Reflection was built in throughout the project on an “individual reflection google slide” that was shared with the teacher, and this was an important step in the process. Not all students have the executive functioning skills fully developed to organize and plan their school work, especially while working in groups and working on large projects. This reflection slide allowed students to pause, note their contributions to the group, and set goals for what still needed to be completed. In years past, there would be a few students that didn’t complete the project, but this year, 100% of the students had a submission! This is certainly a win!
What took this project from a surface-level project and gave it a meaningful purpose was that we had several visitors to the classroom to watch project presentations that are going to travel to Spain in the near future. They shared useful information and were proud of their creations. All groups had visual supports, and the variety of the unknown kept the whole class on edge, waiting to see what would be next. It helped to build community in the classroom right at the beginning of the school year.
The project was also adapted for the ASL classroom by having students research and plan a trip to visit US schools and clubs specializing in teaching Deaf students. Similarly increased engagement was noted, and most importantly, students were excited about the learning process. This type of project could be made relevant to any language!
Just as the expectation is for students to reflect on their work, teachers must do the same, and next year, the project will be reviewed based on the turnout this year, and any changes will be made to meet the needs of the students and personalize their learning experience!