Recently Spanish 3 students at my school have been exploring different social and conservation problems through news, stories, and videos. While social activism is not exactly on the forefront of any of these sixteen year olds’ brains, I have found that there are 3 factors which play a very large role in student buy-in and engagement: why, how, and who.
We have all heard the question, “why do we have to do this. What’s the point?” Students have no reason to buy into anything, be it a project, an assessment, or a homework assignment if they can’t see the value behind it. Fortunately there is plenty of information around about kids making a difference in the world and many of my students who live in rural areas were able to connect with some of the news articles I discovered on Newsela.com. Thanks to their Spanish language category, I was able to go on their site and produce the same article at different reading levels, which allowed me to differentiate readings for students. Then, some student chose to read on a chromebook while other chose to annotate on paper. I told them to focus on what they knew, that the goal at the start was to show them what they could work out by themselves and that they should color it green. Then we worked on the uncertain words; those words they have seen but may not be certain of the meaning we colored yellow. Finally we looked for no more than 5 words that seemed to be reoccurring or important, but they did not understand them. The results looked something like the image, which I call stoplight reading. The “why” became understanding the problem so that they could suggest solutions.
Once students knew it was something they could connect with and relate to, we worked on the “how.” Giving student choice on how they demonstrated their solutions, meant giving criteria that was specific enough to assess the benchmarks that I needed to, but general enough that students could be creative. Students opted to use everything from low tech conventional posters and diagrams to higher tech powtoons, comics, and videos. By eliminating the fall back of a slides presentation, they had to try something different, which opened them up to a whole world of possibilities.
To ensure that students focused on the content and not just the method of delivery, the “who” of it was also important. A true audience, whether it is peers outside their class, community members, or on the internet, means that students care more about the product they are submitting. By making students aware at the beginning of the assignment that their solution would have to find a public audience, we were able to ensure privacy and safety while still offering an authentic audience to motivate students. In the end, students found that they could understand more than they thought, and contribute more than they knew.