Genius Hour – A Reflection of Sorts

Egads! I drafted this post two months ago, but I forgot to post it. Better late than never!

This year (2015) I jumped into Genius Hour. I didn’t have everything completely planned ahead of time, which normally isn’t how I operate. I thought I would get started and see where the kids took the project.

See this post for my thoughts about one month (halfway) in.

Now that we’ve wrapped our first round for the year, I have a few more ideas to add.

1. If I know what my goal is, I have to help students develop the skills to reach it.
I tied this to my curriculum standards by using Genius Hour as my informational text research and writing unit. At the end of the day, I wanted students to read some informational text and cite it appropriately.

I grossly underestimated how much work that would require upfront. I assumed some of the students had background knowledge in the area of citing their sources, but most were not able to draw from that.

I made available videos (flipped classroom style) for students to access if they needed help and support with MLA format. I provided mini-lessons to students who felt like they needed more direct instruction from me. I was available for students while they were working on their projects to answer questions related to citing sources.

In my end of project survey for students, a number of them expressed the project would have been better if they didn’t have to worry about MLA. I was trying to mini-lesson on this as went along, but it clearly didn’t work here.

Solution – Next year, I’m going to develop a pre-assessment for students to see where they are at on MLA format and citing sources well before the project even begins. Students who already have an understanding will be named experts to help their classmates. I will provide pre-teaching lessons whole group to have some exposure to MLA citations and works cited pages. I will still provide the videos and mini-lessons, but I will have a mid-check assessment to see where students are at before the project is due. This will enable me to see who needs a more direct check in.

I need to  do a better job at making clear the purpose of MLA and problems with plagiarism. I also plan to talk to our 7th grade ELA teachers to ask them to use the terminology MLA and Works Cited page so that it is familiar and consistent for students.

2. Give fewer specifics up front.
After we launched Genius Hour, I gave students the option to write a paper and/or create a video at the conclusion of their project.  Part way through the research process, I encouraged other options. A number of students expressed in my end of project survey that they wished they had known all of the options up front. Even though I thought I made clear they could do whatever they wanted to meet the criteria, I confused them by at the same time giving the options of paper or video.

Solution –  I will simply give them the requirements that they need to meet, and then allow them to create whatever they think will best meet those. I will want them to access their own creativity before I provide any specifics and/or sample products.

3. Embrace the idea that some students will get more out of Genius Hour than others.

This seems to be something that is difficult for  most teachers. We want all students to achieve at high levels, but we have to accept that that high level is going to be something that is different for all students. Also, as usual, there will be different levels of buy-in from all students.

I had this idealistic vision of what my students would achieve, but in reality, I didn’t create the environment for that to happen for them.

Solution – I need to trust that each student will meet me where they are, and that I am able to help them grow from that point. I also need to do a better job of creating the environment I truly want – one of exploration and discovery. If I put too many constraints on the process, it is likely to hamper this process. I didn’t let students struggle through enough, which I need to remember for next time.

I also tried to do too much in a short time frame. I had intended to have our projects stretch a semester, but I didn’t get started soon enough. So, we worked twice a week for 9 weeks, instead of once a week for 18. In retrospect, we would have been better off with it stretched out for the semester to allow more time for thought and mini-lesson support between our workdays.

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