Shortly after the Easter holidays the students in year 8 will be publishing final copies of their newspapers they have been designing in their ‘Explore’ lessons. Explore lessons embrace the principles of Project Based Learning and build students learning habits and competencies based on Guy Claxon’s ‘Building Learning Power’ learning muscles known as the 4R’s. They replace traditional Geography and History lessons.
The project began about 10 weeks ago when a ‘project tuning’ took place with a group of colleagues from different schools including a colleague from High Tech High in San Diego (a pioneer of project based learning). I presented my plan for students to create their own ‘Citizens Newspaper’ where students would create their own newspaper articles about issues in their local area and articles that fit into the terms theme ‘Freedom’.
The project was tuned and then I was able to present the project to my faculty team who were excited about the project. The 6A’s were used to tune the project. The project would have ‘authenticity’ for example because the work will be exhibited in the local community. When my class finish their newspapers I will take them to the local high street and ask local cafes, doctor’s surgeries and shops if they would display the work. The students are particularly excited about this and are looking forward to finding out where their newspaper is to take family to go and read it!
The academic rigour will come through the range of subjects the students will research and most importantly through the critique and redrafting process. Once students have prepared their first article, this is then given warm and cool feedback from the students based on the success criteria they develop. In particular the students will make reference to their English lessons and look at how to write like a journalist. For example by asking questions such as ‘is the article in columns?’ or ‘Who is the articles audience?’.
Some students will make multiple drafts of their work while others will write several articles for their newspaper. By assigning each group an editor, usually a more able student, and the collaboration of the students has been strong. I have observed ‘editors’ asking other students to make changes to their work in a constructive way and they are motivated as a team to work together because they know what their final outcome will be. It is vital to debrief the students learning at regular intervals, by referring to the ‘learning muscles’ students have an accessible language to be able to talk in depth about how they could improve as a team.
Although the project is taking longer than anticipated (initially 9 hours over 9 weeks) the students have produced some fabulous work. The project launch or ‘hook’ took place by using elements of Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE’s). For example in the lead up to students writing their articles they were given a choice of some abstract questions to research and present back in a SOLE style. For example, ‘Are women free?’ this lead to students finding out about Malala, the girl who was shot in Pakistan and looking at women’s rights during the Taliban rule. Or ‘Are animals free?’ this lead to a SEN student becoming absorbed in learning about ‘Bear Baiting’ and ‘Shark Finning’ and consequently given the motivation to write for him what is an amazing piece of writing. Another student has written a fabulous piece about Bull Fighting and used several websites to discover a real understanding for the subject. The students are even illustrating and using their own photography in the project – nothing can be copied!
Homework’s were set for students to research issues in their local town. This has proved less successful, but some students have gone the extra mile at home to produce articles about recent floods in the local town and what they think should be done about it.