We were able to start this process late last week, and we are beginning our first full week of student-directed work.
While this is far from a perfected system, I do believe we have an excellent starting point. As we work through this process, I will post updates about our progress here to help me reflect on what’s working and what’s not, as well as to glean any ideas from those who may read the posts.
For both classes, we are trying to split each new skill strand into two distinct phases: an exploratory phase and an application phase.
PHASE 1: EXPLORATION (Theatre Phase 1 | Journalism Phase 1)
During the first Exploratory Phase, students choose a particular skill strand they are interested in and learn through observing and dissecting Mentor Mediums from professionals. For example, if a theatre student was interested in acting or musical theatre, she would watch several scenes and musical numbers by professional performers and analyze what makes the performance great. A journalism student interested in sports writing would read several quality sports stories of various styles and compare and contrast them to determine what each article has that makes it professional quality. This same approach is applied to all the available skill strands for both classes--be it light design, photography, scenic painting, or film editing. Students compile all these Mentor Mediums in a digital portfolio for them to refer back to later.
Next, students would use advisor-provided notes, links to reputable websites and video series to compile their own notes & guidelines for the skills they would need to duplicate similar work in that strand in lieu of traditional teacher lectures (although the teacher is available to answer questions and have conversations about what they’re learning).
Then students have as many days as they need to actually practice individual skills in a gradeless environment. Photographers take practice photos to prove they understand the 9 elements of composing a photo; makeup artists practice various techniques on themselves (or others) to hone the skill; videographers shoot practice footage and complete mock interviews. Students track each step of the process so they can reflect on the process later on.
Finally, students create a presentation that highlights what essential elements make their skill strand quality and what skills one would need to master to successfully perform those skills. The presentation serves many purposes: studies show that when students teach others, it helps the student-presenter retain and master those skills and concepts; studies also show students also learn better when they have a chance to reflect on their process and self-identify strengths and weaknesses; it offers students more opportunities to speak in a more formal situation; it will allow students who have chosen a different strand to get a better insight into a skill they may not have considered before.
At this point, students move onto:
PHASE 2: APPLICATION (Theatre Phase 2 | Journalism Phase 2)
Once students have a working knowledge of whatever skill it is they are interested in, they decide on a project to implement those skills. Projects could include things like creating a photojournalism package for a basketball game, designing a set for a scene from a show, performing a monologue or writing a student feature story.
Students will set their own deadlines and schedule multiple checks with the advisor to make sure they’re on the right track. Throughout the process, students will also keep a running tab on the process as they’re working toward a final product to use as a final reflection at the end of the project. Students are given a blank weekly schedule and a checklist to complete as they go.
Depending on the project they choose, they will have as much time as they need and want to practice individual skills before presenting their final project. For example, students writing a feature will likely need more time to learn how to write in that specific style, practice interviewing and generating several drafts before they’re ready to submit a polished final draft, whereas a student lighting a scene may only need a few days to complete their task.
Once the students have a “final draft” of their project, they present it to the rest of the class in a seminar format; either starting with the end-product (like maybe a prepared musical number or a short video-recorded newscast) or presenting their process in a chronological reflection, the student will share with others what skills they have mastered, struggles they encountered, how they overcame them and what they would do differently next time (along with their polished final draft, of course).
These skills seminars are a first-run at these skills, and therefore are considered formative assessments, so grading is simply based on completion, adherence to the deadlines they set and their reflection.
While we are likely another week or two away from making it past these first two phases, students are able to go into many different directions after completing Phase 2. If a student genuinely loves the strand they’re in, they can start digging deeper into more advanced skills within that strand and take on more projects to build a portfolio they could use for a scholarship application. Or, if a student is interested in another strand, they can start the process over with something new.
As the semester continues and students get more sophisticated in the strands they’ve chosen, they can be used as student-advisors to help out peers who may just be starting a strand they themselves have begun to master. Students in different strands could even team up to create an even more complex project.
We will continue to post blog updates and pictures as the weeks roll on, and with student permission, we’ll even post links to some of the projects and reflections students create.