You can imagine, then, how wary I was of pulling together with five other aspiring Humanities teachers on Friday, all trying to determine the best course of action for turning the news of Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban into a lesson plan. Let's face it: you don't become a teacher because you're not strong-minded or opinionated and don't have ideas about how to implementing those opinions. Faculty meetings are a prospect that makes me rather nervous; how could we all possibly come to an agreement that pleased us all?
I'll admit we did have some moments of tense frustration. I'll own that. But on the whole, we were fine. We all brought our own concepts to the table, and all really liked certain possibilities for projects and time frames. When we were trying to narrow it down to one definitive option, that's when we got most anxious; eventually, though, someone had the game-changing idea of not settling.
We all liked the base. We knew we wanted this project to help our students develop their analytical and evaluative skills, that they might form an opinion about a current event. We knew we wanted it to develop their oral language and persuasive writing skills, that they might be able to articulate that opinion. And we knew we wanted it to develop their research skills, that they could properly support it. We also knew that this project should teach them how to use wiki pages or blogs as tools, not merely toys: forums for evaluation and discussion, rather than just places to play or whine.
There was also a framework for how we might accomplish those goals. We'd start out by telling our students to "Go find," meaning they'd each need to go dig up one article that somehow related to the soda ban and then post it on a blog or wiki page we could all access. Together, we would then evaluate what makes them credible or not, to practice evaluating sources. From there, we would move into the meat of the project: a brainstorming activity for developing interview questions, informed by the articles they'd all found. "Interview questions? Interviewing whom?" you might ask, and right you are. Well, this is an ideal world in which we could easily get whomever we wanted to agree to an interview via Skype or, if we preferred a panel discussion, a Google+ Hangout. So, we might get a street vendor, an FDA representative, an intern from Mayor Bloomberg's office, a random consumer...whomever would be a relevant subject. They could be interviewed by the entire class at once, or they could divide into groups and each interview one subject; whatever the teacher preferred. (See how we started leaving choice open? Too much conflict was brewing for us not to do so.) After the interview(s), teachers would model a Letter to the Editor or op-ed in class, and then let the students write their own, either as homework or in class, depending on the decided time frame. These pieces would also be posted as blog entries or wiki pages. Finally, students would respond to these letters, possibly from the viewpoints of the interviewees. For a shorter project, though, a teacher might decide to cut out the interviews and have the op-eds be based on the cumulative class research alone, which would be accessible via the wiki page.
Deciding on a framework, rather than a concrete, nailed-down assignment, made me feel much more comfortable. Talking together opened up new possibilities, which I still felt free to explore without getting too far away from what other English classes in my school might be doing. If this is what faculty meetings are like, I'll be happy.
I was equally apprehensive about and equally surprised by the second half of class: podcasting. Truth be told, I barely knew what a podcast was. Something to do with audio? Kind of like a radio show, right? Wouldn't this be more of a distraction than anything else, when used in class? Yes, it was fun, and Meg and I spent a relishable hour coming up with our practice podcast (listen below!!). However, it also made me consider things that had never occurred to me before. For instance, using Google Voice for homework: students call in, leave their name, and read aloud the sonnet they just composed for homework (or something), and you listen at your leisure and grade them. I love that idea, just like I love the idea of them using a blog or wiki page to post reading responses so they can access each other's ideas outside of class as well as during.
Maybe this technology stuff isn't all bad.