Tuesday, July 09, 2019

A Personal Manifesto Final Project

I find it tricky to carve the time and the will to blog during the regular school year, which often amounts to several posts recapping the projects from the year during the summer. This is both good and bad - I often forget details when telling the story of something from long ago, but it also gives me the time and space to be truly reflective. For the best of both worlds, I think I'll start at the end, and then jump back to the beginning in future posts.

At my school, we have the luxury of doing final projects instead of final exams. In grade 8 this year, we actually planned out of final project way back at the beginning of the year. We teach in a Humanities approach, blending Language Arts and Social Studies. I see each of my two groups for two double blocks each day, which lets us play with time, as well as meet many of the outcomes of both programs of studies within one learning task. The Social Studies curriculum for grade 8 is a study of worldviews, and focuses on three case studies: The Italian Renaissance and the emergence of a Western worldview, the conflict between the Aztec and the Spanish, and the isolationist and subsequent rapid adaptation in Edo and Meiji periods of Japanese history. Through all of these, worldviews is a throughline: how people create meaning and make sense of their worlds. The common threads we wove through our study of these societies were: geography, economy, values, beliefs, society, time, and knowledge.

At this point, I need to recognize and publicly declare my absolute gratitude for my team partner Tara. Tara and I have this wonderful scholarly friendship where we can push each others' thinking in the best kind of way, resulting in thoughtful task design and a seamless grade 8 experience for all our students. We co-plan everything, and everything I'm going to write about in the next few posts is 50% me, and 50% her.

The focus on worldviews led Tara and I to bring in an integrated focus on philosophies, wisdom, and making sense of our own realities and worlds as they relate to grade 8 students. Things came into focus when I came across this blog post, from author Ryan Holiday, about Commonplace Books. Great people through history have keep commonplace books, where they collected wisdom and quotes from wise people they read, met, viewed, and heard about. In this post, Holiday outlines his own method for collecting wisdom, which we adapted to suit our thirteen-year-olds.

We introduced the concept with our students, and then read Holiday's blog post, annotating it. We made a class list of what we took from this article. Here's one of my class's notes:



We gave each of our students their own box and stack of index cards, and post-it flags. One of the routines in our classroom is 15-20 minutes of free reading at the beginning of our first block together, and we encouraged students to write quotes from the books they read to the box. Several times throughout the year, we checked in with how they were doing. We also spent some time looking up quotes from other sources, too. The internet is full of them - at this point, we taught the importance of finding the source of the quote, teaching strategies for tracking down authors when the author of a quote is listed as "unknown" or "anonymous."

In reflective mode, Tara and I both recognized a need for even more purposeful time spent adding to commonplace boxes - with more frequency and deliberateness. If something is important, you carve time for it. This is important. We wanted these boxes to become a treasured object for our students and were dismayed by how many students destroyed their allegedly indestructible boxes, and how many ended up in the recycling bin at the end of the year. Perhaps more deliberate time spent on them would increase the likelihood our students would treat them like the priceless collection we know they could become.

In the last two and half weeks of school, we focused in on our boxes, and undertook a simplified design process that helped our students pull meaning from the quotes they'd been collecting throughout the year. Our end goal was two personal manifestos: the first, a personal essay, in the style of ever-impactful "This I Believe." The second was a visual or audiovisual version, inspired by the Holstee Manifesto's print and video versions, as well as other examples of meaningful personal manifestos, which can be found in our slidedeck. Each day that we worked on the project, we started by listening to a "This I Believe" essay and also looking at an example of a visual or audio-visual example, drawing on them as mentor texts for our work. Students annotated a printed copy of the "This I Believe" and we discussed what stood out to them about how they author communicated his or her message in a short amount of airtime. We also discussed the visual or audio-visual examples. The rest of the double block was for the students to work through the scaffolded approach below, which had them curating their commonplace boxes for the quotes that held the most meaning for them, and to really reflect on what's important to them.





The results were phenomenal, especially in the second part, the visual versions. If they didn't cherish their commonplace boxes, I sure hope they cherish these manifestos in years to come. What an incredible gift for young teenagers to really articulate the wisdom they possess and the wisdom around them. One of the shared texts we read this year was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and one of the themes my students really latched onto was the idea that children possess such wisdom and creativity that the structures and demands of adulthood sometimes eat away. This project was sure proof of that. Have a look at a few examples my students created below.






They were so good that I decided to print their manifesto and frame it for them as a year-end gift.



As a final curatorial act, I asked each of them for their best line, and we created a class manifesto. I think I'll print them out big and put them in my classroom as advice for my next year's group of grade 8s. Here are the class manifestos for each of my groups:



A recap of the resources shared:



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