How Can I Make This Work?

This weekend, I received an email from a blog reader who asked some great questions about 20Time. With her permission and use of a pseudonym, I’m posting our conversation in the hopes that it’ll answer questions you might be having, too:

I’m teaching Sp. Ed. English (9-12) and I’m really wanting to do 20Time. I’m just worried that some of my kids who are pretty anti-everything except smoking and drinking won’t do the project. And there is no way I can handle them with “nothing” to do for 20% of the semester. I’d love any tips you could offer there. Also, I have a few who “have anxiety problems.” They don’t have an actual diagnosis or a manifestation of a disability; they just don’t want to speak in class. Again, tips would be great.

I love your website. Since I started teaching English (my license is actually social studies), your site has helped me a ton.


Hi Paulina,
Thanks so much for checking in with me. I love that you want to bring 20Time to your kids, and I completely understand your apprehension. You are wise to be concerned. The project requires a fair amount of maturity and focus from students, as they’ll be required to work independently for almost all of the work sessions. I do wander around the room during those sessions and meet with kids one-on-one to answer questions, brainstorm solutions, give extra attention to the chuckleheads, but it sounds like your crew will require more than that.

A year ago, my first reaction probably would’ve been, “Oh, I’ll bet most of the kids in that class, especially the stoners, will just waste their time goofing off and accomplish nothing but giving you a migraine.” But I had a surprising experience last spring – some of my lower-performing kids, the ones who always ride the C-/D+ rail, turned in the best projects. Yes, it took those kids a bit longer to get going and find their groove, but they ended up creating much bigger, cooler projects than my 4.0+ grade grubbers who prefer to just sit-and-get lecture content they can regurgitate on tests.

Now, the trick is going to be finding a method that makes sense for you and your class. Obviously, I don’t know your kids, but I’m thinking a modified version of 20Time might be a better fit. Maybe you do the project only for four weeks, instead of 12, and see how it goes? Or maybe you make it a full-class community service/fund-raising project on a local issue? Or maybe you pair with another English teacher and create teams of two – one of your students with one of his students?

Also, the way you frame the project could go a long way toward getting your kids on board. I’m never above spinning the truth a bit if it serves my students. For example, you might tell your kids that the school board was looking for a cross-section of high school students in grade 9 through 12 to pilot an innovative real-world learning project (be sure to use this intro. Prezi and hit the 3M and Google examples) that’s been successful in California, you sent in an application bragging about your students, and – amazing! – your class was chosen. Manipulative? Oh, yeah. Effective? Every time.

Or make it a contest. The final speeches (I’m guessing you have much smaller classes than mine) could be evaluated by a panel of volunteer judges (a vice principal? a campus supervisor? a couple of parent volunteers from one of your other classes? random adult friends willing to take a day off of work?) to determine the winning project. The prize? Who knows – maybe a bump in their grade or a profile in the local newspaper or even just two weeks of one-minute-early dismissals to be first in the lunch line. Work your connections and try to find something that would interest the majority of your kids without costing you any money.

For my version of 20Time, public speaking is a major part of the assessment piece, with both the 60-Second Pitch Assignment at the beginning and the 3-to-5 minute culminating Speech Assignment. I, too, have kids with public speaking anxieties, but the kid has to present unless he/she has an IEP accommodation; we have a speech proficiency graduation requirement here and this is the first opportunity to try and clear that hurdle. I cheerlead the reluctant and make it as comfortable as possible, but basically the kid isn’t going to get any better at public speaking if he never actually speaks in public. By May, the classes are very supportive of each other, like a cozy little family, and I’ve been able to coax the timid into speaking, with varying degrees of success. For some of them, just standing up there and trying is a major victory. You also, though, could drop the final speech if that standard is handled elsewhere in your curriculum.

I hope this is helpful. Sorry I was a bit long-winded, but I do love talkin’ shop. Let’s go get ‘em!

4 thoughts on “How Can I Make This Work?

  1. Excellent, Laura–and great, real-life question! Thanks for posting! I appreciate the discussion of how to modify/adapt this awesome project for different classrooms. I’m teaching a high school credit class (Latin 1) in a middle school (8th grade). While my expectations academically are the same as for high schoolers, my social and emotional expectations must be adjusted so that I don’t lose my mind! This project hits academic, social, and emotional skills, making it such a quality endeavor. Thanks for the reminder that as good teachers, we must modify and differentiate to make these excellent lessons WORK for our classrooms. Maximas gratias!

  2. Indeed, Stacey. The greatest teachers I know find an idea they like and then modify to fit their kids, community, and own teaching personality. That’s part of the reason there’ll never be a one-size-fits-all perfect teacher script/single technique. We’re all just so different. And that’s what makes us awesome! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  3. Heather H. says:

    Laura, have you allowed students to work with partners or in a group of three? I’m thinking about trying that and was wondering if you have any words of advice. Motivating or distracting? My thought was that they could present together, but each student would be responsible for presenting for the same amount of time as if they were working alone.

  4. Hey Heather,
    Thanks for checking in with me. I know that some teachers have done teams of 2 or 3 with success, but I decided to make it a solo experience – and I’m glad I did. My thought on this was that there’s no way you and your best friend/s have the exact same depth of passion for the project you choose. I want this to be intensely meaningful for each individual and, with teams, it often feels like someone’s just along for the ride. Now my students can definitely help each other (and they do!), but the ultimate project belongs to just one person. Feel free to do whatever feels best for you and your kids. That’s just my two cents. If teams make more sense in your world, then go for it! There’s no bad choice, really. 🙂

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