What picture comes to mind when you think about the last days of school? Do you see large trash bins in the hallways and classrooms where students dump papers they have accumulated over the course of the year? Do your limudei kodesh or ivrit students create a paper waterfall with the myriad worksheets they have completed?
If so, I wonder if it is possible to backwards design our teaching in such a way that it reduces the annual disposal ritual–not just for ecological reasons but for academic reasons.
Can we inspire student work that is so valuable and important that our students would not dare think of discarding it? Can we design useful assignments that serve an audience other than just a student’s teachers? A few times a year, can we create meaningful learning so that our students are proud to demonstrate, exhibit, or share their skills, products, and knowledge publicly?
Ron Berger, the Chief Program Officer for a non-profit school improvement network called Expeditionary Learning, observes that when work is completed, turned in, graded, and handed back with no goal other than fulfilling a requirement, it is more likely to end up in the end-of-year trash bin. However, if the work serves some use beyond the classroom and/or addresses an issue that may benefit a wider audience, then it’s likely to become something students cherish well beyond the last day of school.
Berger argues in a brief article in Edutopia
that there is a hierarchy of audiences (see below). Student motivation, effort, pride, engagement, and learning increase as one ascends the hierarchy.
Throughout his career, he Berger has collected samples of exemplary student work, much of which was inspired by an assignment that included an authentic audience. His examples come from the world of General Studies, but it is not hard to imagine how to adapt this to limudei kodesh and ivrit classes.
Mature students can write letters to the editor of the local Jewish newspaper. Students can teach some of what they have learned to trustees at a board meeting. They can submit an article to their synagogue bulletin prior to the chagim to prepare their audience for meaningful holiday. They can submit an essay on a Jewish topic to a literary contest. Ivrit tudents in elementary grades can read children’s Hebrew books to students in Gan. Limudei kodesh students can blog, tweet, prepare youtube videos that are accessible to the learning public.
Rushton Hurley, a teacher trainer, put it succinctly: “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” We want our students to strive for good, not good enough.
I know it may sound crazy to be thinking about the end of the year now; after all, Simchat Torah was just days ago. However, if we backwards plan and think through ways in which a handful of our assignments or assessments can benefit some public audience, chances are that our students will create better products, engage in deeper learning, and never think about contributing to a paper waterfall.