My summer university course starts tomorrow, and instead of enjoying my last day of relaxation before a very intense three weeks, what am I doing? Working on my grade 10 English course. I can basically shape this course into whatever I want it to be (well, within the framework of the curriculum, but students are going to be reading and writing no matter how I choose to structure those experiences so I have a lot of freedom).
I got this course back from a colleague after not teaching it for several years. I wanted it back because one of the things I enjoy most about my work is designing and developing. I could, if I wanted to, run this course with only minor adjustments. But I think the course as it stands right now is too “independent” – all of the assignments are pieces of writing that students complete individually, culminating in students assembling writing collections as their final project. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, necessarily, and it leads to a final project that is a logical conclusion to the semester. But I’ve had really good experiences with students working on major group projects and collaborating using digital tools, and it seems to me that an entire course where students never get to collaborate with one another is, well, lonely.
So the two questions I’m pondering are…
- How many collaborative projects should I have? How many different groups are students going to be able to manage at a time / throughout a course, and what is a good balance between individual assignments and group assignments? Or, from another lens, how much of students’ final grade should be composed of individual work versus group projects? I could make this course 100% collaborative, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a better balance than an entirely individual course. And yes I know, I should only give assignments which have meaning and purpose behind them… but my brain is full of meaningful and purposeful ideas, so I need to do some winnowing down.
- What does this course lead to as a final project? If I’m doing a lot of cooperative projects, asking students to assemble individual writing collections of their work during the semester no longer really makes sense. So what does it lead to? A group writing anthology?
I’m also contemplating doing something with grammar… I do a really thorough job of novels and essays in grade 9, and traditionally my grade 10 course includes an equally thorough job of short stories, Shakespeare, and poetry. But looking at our students’ writing over the years, their command of the conventions of the English language is… uneven…. and I wonder whether that’s a piece that might be missing.
I’ll figure it out… and as with anything new I do, it will probably take me a couple of runs through to refine it. It’s great to have the freedom to design something, but it’s also a curse because there are so many cool possibilities!