The Question I Hate the Most

How to make my blood boil: Imagine we’ve just had an intensely wonderful class discussion on a weighty topic. I ask you to answer a few reflective questions independently via short answer response. Then, you raise your hand and ask, “How many points is this worth?”

“17,000” is my usual response as I flash a smile to mask my silent scream.

The “how many points” question isn’t what I actually hate; it’s the implication behind that question that I find insulting. If I say that, for instance, a short answer assignment is worth 50 points, boy, my students will break their pencils giving me thorough, thoughtful answers. If, though, I say the exercise isn’t worth any points, that it’s just a practice round of writing for feedback, guess what happens? Yup, half-hearted, barely there answers.

On Thursday, I went to my dark place when, in one class period, three different freshmen asked, “How many points is this worth?”

Now, I understand that they’re nervous, especially as my freshies head into their very first round of final exams this week. I get it. There’s pressure. Everyone knows these semester grades’ll be engraved on transcripts and eventually viewed by college admissions officers who hold the power to determine the entire path of lives, success, and ultimate happiness.

And yet.

I’m unwilling to feed the idea that the only reason to complete an assignment is for points. How many points is this assignment worth? An incalcuable amount. It’s worth doing because the information is worth knowing. It’s worth challenging yourself in a worthy endeavor. It’s always worthwhile to throw your heart and head into your work. That’s what all of this is worth to me. I wouldn’t lead this class, give this lecture, assign this task if I didn’t think all of this is worthwhile, if I didn’t think my students were worthy of my time and attention. Have faith, young people. This assignment, today’s small lesson, is just one step in the epic journey of making you worthy of being a citizen of our world. (I was, alas, far less eloquent when I gave a lathery version of this speech to Thursday’s class. It’s true; there was spittle.)

All of this reminds me of John Green’s World History Crash Course (note the first 56 seconds of the video below), which I designed and posted today as my new classroom computer desktop wallpaper. Feel free to grab and post a copy of your own.

Now, I’m not one to linger in the Land of Negativity. When I see a problem, I’m a regular Fix-It Felix Jr. (Annoying, I know.) To that end, I’ve decided to launch a massive – and terrifying – project with my freshmen this spring designed to change, or at least challenge, their mindset. A million particulars still need to be decided, but I’m cannonballing into the waters of self-directed, project-based learning. (Thanks for the inspiration, 20Time and Kevin Brookhouser.)

More details will follow, but basically I’m going to guide my students through an experience where they choose a worthwhile project to complete (somewhat) on their own. I’ll grade only the process, not the product. I promise, I’ll keep blogging about my adventure and post materials as I finish creating/trying them out with my students. In the meantime, you can see what I’m up to with this free and reusable Prezi.

Oh, this is gonna be crazzyyy, people. It could be a humiliating disaster or the single greatest thing I’ve ever brought to my classroom. Time will tell. Either way, I hope to make some valuable points with this worthwhile investment of our time.

Teach on, everyone!

Click here to read my 20Time Update #1.
Click here to read my 20Time Update #2.
Click here to read my 20Time Update #3.
Click here to read my 20Time Update #4.
Click here to read my 20Time Update #5.
Click here to read my 20Time Update #6.
Click here to read my 20Time Final Wrap-Up Post.


25 thoughts on “The Question I Hate the Most

  1. Jenny Sykes says:

    Hey Laura! Super excited for your 20 Time adventure! I look forward to following your awesomeness!

  2. Thanks, Jenny. I’m pretty psyched about it, too. Fingers-crossed that I can get my Scantron-test loving kids to let go of the expected, safe thing and join me in these fun, but choppy waters of uncertainty.

  3. You are my hero! Thank you for this! You have given this first-year teacher hope that there is so much more beyond symbolism worksheets and reading packets. (An unfortunate by-product of an aging faculty disinterested in updating materials from the 1980s.) Can’t WAIT to see how this turns out. Please share it all! Thank you!

  4. SO much more, Kay. Glad I could offer a little inspiration. Keep doing the right thing for your kids and, before you know it, you’ll be one of your department’s decision makers. Keep the faith!

  5. I have been wanting to do this in my classroom, as well. I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to implement it this year, but after reading your post, I may implement it before the start of 4th quarter! It may not be as extensive as the 20 Time projects, but hopefully it will result in some real-life applications for the students. So excited to read more posts from you in upcoming weeks!

  6. Amanda Houp says:

    I’m a High School English teacher and I LOVE the idea of this project! I plan on implementing it with my juniors and seniors (should I get admin. approval–fingers crossed). You mention on your Prezi that you are grading the process, not the product, and I wanted to know how you are going about that. Do you have a rubric or some other means of assessing that process? Thanks and wishing you and your students the best!

  7. Hey Amanda, I’m so glad this idea resonates with you. I’m still in the rubric-building phase of the project and will post items as soon as they are ready and have been kid-tested in my own classroom. In grading the process, I’m going to have two specific public speaking assignments, a 60-Second Project Pitch (a kinder, gentler Shark Tank type of experience) and an end-of-project speech where each student explains what he did and what he learned. Along the way, I’ll also have weekly Exit Tickets where kids will set a plan for how they want to use their in-class work time and then I’ll assess how they did in following their own plan. Finally, I’m planning on a mid-way checkpoint meeting with each student, an informal but scored check-in and documentation of progress.

    This is my first-time venturing into this project, so some items are still taking shape (and I’m sure other elements will shape-shift completely) but I promise to keep blogging about it and post items when they’re ready. Stay tuned…

  8. Reblogged this on nella and commented:
    The age old education question.

  9. Laura, what I don’t see from the posts you’ve shared is how you introduced it to your students. I watched the prezi and am still a bit lost on the introduction portion of it. My students will have a million questions, and I am not sure how I would answer them. I hope this makes sense!

  10. Hi Tracy,
    This makes perfect sense. Basically, I shared with my classes the same message that I used at the beginning of this blog post. I was frustrated with them and their hyper-focus on grades and points as we wrapped up the fall semester, so when the spring semester began I presented this Prezi as my “solution” to this problem. I framed it in a positive way, as a reminder to ALL of us about why we’re here everyday doing this work. And that’s when I launched the Prezi slides and led into the John Green quote.

    Hope this helps! Glad you’re looking to bring this to your classes.

    Have a great 15-16,
    🙂 Laura

  11. Laura – this is a wonderful idea, and I love the Prezi you prepared for it. One nitpick on the Prezi that you might want to adjust: on slide 6, you include the phrase, “The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions…”

    The use of “comprise” here is incorrect. The phrase should read, “The test will last your entire life, and it will comprise the millions of decisions…” or “The test will last your entire life, and it will be composed of the millions of decisions…”

    Most respectfully,
    A fellow English teacher

  12. Hi Lindsey,
    Thanks for being such a careful reader! The line is actually a direct quote from John Green, so I think I’ll leave it as is. The Prezi, though, is able to be copied and modified, so feel free to grab your own copy and make any changes you’d like before you use it with your classes. I’m sure Mr. Green won’t mind the correction. 🙂

    Hope you’re all set for a great 15-16!

  13. I am so excited to use this project! I am going to introduce it tomorrow. I hope to post about it on my website as well. This is such an awesome project so thank you!

  14. HI! I absolutely LOVE this idea! I feel like my kids get lazier and less creative every year that I want to light a fire under them and get them interested in SOMETHING. A couple questions/concerns I have. First, I have a ton of IEP/504 students. How do you accommodate these students? Also, what do you do for kids that simply don’t do it. Sadly, I have a good number of students that simply choose not to do any work and just don’t care about their grade. Thanks!

  15. Hey Alexis! So glad you’re thinking of taking the plunge. The great thing about 20Time is that it’s the ultimate personalized learning experience, allowing kids to work at whatever pace they want/can. For your IEP/504 kids, I suggest meeting with them each individually for a quick check-in (maybe during SSR or a group work time) to help them break down their big project idea into manageable chunks. If they think about the HUGE project as a whole, they’ll get overwhelmed and freeze. If they take it one baby step at a time and focus only on that next step, they should be okay. As for the kids who are determined to fail, it seems they’re likely going to fail no matter what content we bring to them, so why not give them this relevant, personal interest-driven project? 20Time isn’t a magic wand and it won’t be the inspiration that makes learning meaningful for every student, but it’s worked wonders for a large slice of my kids. I say, give it a go and hang on for the ride! 🙂

  16. Laura, I know that this is an old post, but I wanted to share that watching your 20Time adventure last year inspired me. I’m teaching AP Lang this year for the first time, and I was inspired by the REHUGO projects that I’ve been hearing people talking about. So…inspiration blender time–I’m about to assign my AP kids a hybrid REHUGO–20Time–Speech (TED talk-ish) project for 2nd semester. I’m excited about the possibilities, and I’m hopeful that they take the challenge up and run with it. Thanks for the inspiration and the constant support (even when life has you too busy to post–I know how crazy life can be)! I love to read your posts and your ideas!

  17. This is awesome, Sinead! Glad I could provide a little assistance as you launch your passion project hybrid. It’ll be scary, but worth it in the end – no matter how it turns out, you’ll all learn a ton. Go for it! 🙂

  18. Nicki Guthrie says:

    Hi, Laura! I am planning to tackle this for my honors sophomores this fall. It seems perfectly suited for a hybrid plan. The Prezi link above isn’t working. Do you have an updated link?

  19. Kacie Borchers says:

    Hi Laura! I LOVE this and want to say that I am so appreciative that you are sharing what you have done! I am so grateful for teachers like you that share their knowledge, expertise, and just their experience. I was wondering how you help guide the students in picking projects. Are there certain questions you pose to get them thinking? I know there will be students that just “don’t know what to do or don’t know what they enjoy.” How do you handle these situations? Any help is appreciated! I am a first-year teacher and really want to do more project-based learning. However, I am not an English teacher! I love that you can pull this idea into any subject area!

  20. So happy you found my blog, Kacie! Great question. For the first round of project proposals, I try not to guide students too much, as I’m more interesting in their authentic drive towards a project rather choosing something that they think will just please me, their teacher. After the introductory Prezi lecture, I explain some of the projects I’ve done over the years to get them thinking, but I don’t have a question set or anything like that. Most kids are able to find something to pursue, but there are always a few that get stuck. For those kids, I give them the list of projects that previous students have done in my classes; you’ll find a copy of that in the download. From there, kids are usually able to think of something that’s a fit.

    After the Guppy Tank rounds of project proposals, I meet individually with anyone who gets a red light or has a project that I sense will be too cumbersome to complete. For them, I have a list of generic project ideas (also in the download) to help guide their second choice and we meet to chat about a successful plan of attack. You’ll find that some kids run with the 20Time project’s freedom and others are hobbled by it. That’s to be expected – happens every time with every class. Just keep circulating and meeting with those who need extra support. Even the projects that flop have important lessons to teach.

    Hope this is helpful. 🙂

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