For the last day of the conference, I chose three sessions that had very specific classroom implications for the so-called Twenty-First Century Learner. (Sorry; I can’t help but poke fun at Making Words Important By Using Capital Letters.) The first talked about designing homework for Digital Natives; the second focused on developing professional learning communities in schools; the third focused on implementing differentiated instruction into a school culture. I loved all three of these sessions because they shared a common theme: each offered concrete steps for solving common problems in schools.
I probably liked the first one best: it was presented by two administrators from an elementary school in the Bay Area who created something called the Big Book of Homework for all of their students. Each week, students in each grade have to complete an assignment from their Big Book. Each week’s assignment is aligned exactly with a state core standard (in fact, the core standard in question is printed on the page). The students have a creative question to answer for math and one for English, and they can answer it with writing, with drawing, or with some other written or visual medium that can be glued or taped into the Big Book (a packet of 11″x17″ sheets stapled together). Students also have a “challenge” question to answer that gives them the chance to go further with a particular concept, and teachers can choose to supplement concepts that might bear some repetition (like some math problems) with worksheets. Students then bring in their Big Books each week for a Gallery Walk, when they lay their books out for all of their classmates to see. Students offer written feedback on their classmates’ work via Post-It notes: they write what they like about how someone answered a question. They can also use Post-It write down ideas that they liked from other peoples’ big books (like using construction paper for a fold-out book or drawing a certain kind of diagram) and keep those Post-Its in a toolkit at the back of their own Big Books, giving them a set of ideas to use for their own later Big Book responses. Students must offer each other verbal feedback during Gallery Walks too, which fosters communication and collaboration. As for a grade, all students receive a completion grade for all homework, making the onus on the students to come up with the most creative, most complete answer that they can so that they can present something they’ll be proud to show their classmates.
While this example came from a second-grade classroom, this idea could work well in a high school classroom. In a sense, it’s a sort of journal or portfolio project: it would allow students multiple means of expression and representation to reflect on whatever the class’s subject matter demanded, whether it was biology or English or US History. Interestingly, the Big Book need not be made out of butcher paper: it could be a giant Prezi presentation or a Moodle site or an enormous web portfolio. The possibilities for this seem extraordinary. The presenters showed videos in which students, their parents, and their teachers described how they grew to love the Big Book project, and I was really excited to ponder how we might build a similar structure into our own school.