We have some great teachers at Gahanna Lincoln High School. They are not only passionate about teaching and learning, they are committed to making GLHS a place where all students have a sense of belonging. Many of them use our Graduate Profile to plan units that stretch our students.
One of our classes is Senior Project Composition and I’ve asked the two teachers who teach the course, Danielle Morrison (@morrisondani) and Donja Bridges (@donjab), to share their experience of teaching the class.
When we were first approached about teaching Senior Project Composition, a project-based senior English course, we were immediately excited for the opportunity to try something new. We had seen the impact the class made on students, but what we didn’t realize was how much it would impact us as teachers. As a result, it changed the way we taught not only this course, but other courses as well. The following are three things we’ve learned as a result of teaching Senior Project Composition that we feel every teacher can implement.
1. The best method of instruction is oftentimes just getting out of the way.
Trying to teach a project-based course through direct instruction is nearly impossible. With each student doing a different project, most of the course is individualized and student-directed. When we began teaching the course, we had to eliminate the mindset that the only way to teach was to provide direct instruction. We had to begin to see ourselves as “project-managers”, meeting with the students on a regular basis to conduct check-ins, helping the students figure out what they needed to learn next, and providing guidance and support as needed. We no longer needed to be experts in teaching content area; we needed to be experts in teaching students how to self-direct learning. By shifting the focus to teaching students how to learn, rather than teaching content, students were able to learn far more. Getting out of the way doesn’t mean not getting involved; it means shifting from teaching in front of the class to teaching beside the student.
2. It’s not the teacher’s job to make lessons relevant.
In a traditional classroom setting, teachers work hard to ensure that each lesson is relevant to the students. However, with thirty different students in a classroom, it is nearly impossible to make a single lesson relevant to every student. With the increased amount of student choice, it’s the students’ job to make learning relevant. Because the students’ choice makes learning relevant, the teacher’s job is to help them(students) to help themselves tie their learning into the course content.
3. The process offers more than the product.
Students learn more in the process of developing their project than they do with the final product itself. We have had students create amazing products, but we have also had students create products that can be considered “failures”. What we have learned is that students learn just as much, if not more, from the failures as they do the successes. In other words, the quality of their product does not always reflect the level of learning. A major component in our course is students being able to display a “learning stretch”. When we ask our students what their learning stretch is, many of them respond that they have learned better time management skills, how to collaborate with others, and other skills needed to be successful in their futures. Isn’t that what we want students to learn? The process is where the learning takes place; the product is what the students get to do as a result of their learning.
I appreciate Danielle and Donja for giving us a glimpse of the learning process in Senior Project Composition!