Making English class relevant is not always easy. Knowing how to read, write, and communicate effectively are important life skills; however, this seems to escape teenagers. English class can be made relevant through authentic learning activities and authentic assessments. If you are looking for an authentic learning activity including Sharktank, a United Nations grant, a jury, and a solution to social issues, read on.
Mrs. Collier teaches block scheduled English I classes. This means that she has 3 classes a day for 90 minutes each. For a unit on the rhetorical triangle, Mrs. Collier decided to challenge her students with a problem-based scenario; her students were challenged to present to a panel from the United Nations offering a $4,000,000 grant to support the most innovative product to solve the social problem caused by fast food. Think Shark Tank here. The students were expected to apply their knowledge of the rhetorical triangle and their skills of research, analysis of information, creative problem-solving, and presentation to convince the panel that their team and their product was the most viable and deserving of the $4 million grant.
First, students collaborated in groups of three and were tasked to read one chapter in Fast Food Nation dealing with a specific social problem created by fast food. After reading the chapter, students had to research the social problem and come up with a Shark Tank-like product to solve the problem. Next, the students had to create a presentation to try to convince the United Nations Grant Committee that their product most deserves the $4 million grant.
Persuasion and the Rhetorical Triangle
The students were tasked with applying the Rhetorical Triangle within their presentation to persuade the United Nations Grant Committee to choose their project idea as the most deserving of the $4 million grant. Having had training in applying logos, ethos, and pathos students were required to utilize all three in their presentations.
United Nations Grant Committee
Then, to make the activity more authentic, Ms. Collier invited
community and district members to judge the presentations over two days. Along with Lainie Berry, the District Director of Innovation and Digital Learning; and Caroline Mullis, a representative of the Coast Community Foundation of SC; I had the honor and thrill of serving on the UN Grant Committee to judge 4 of the 8 projects. The 4 products included a citizen watch-dog project to monitor pollution, a government-led pollution-monitoring system, a machine that detects E.coli in fast food burger meat, and a biodegradable and edible food packaging.
The Google Slides visual presentations were of varying quality as were the live student presentations. Overall, the 3-person jury was impressed with the level of research and creativity presented by each group. Mrs. Collier provided each jury member a rubric to judge the product, the presentation, and the rhetorical triangle and invited the jury members to ask questions for clarification before making our final decision. We three jury members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each group, narrowed it down to two, and finally settled on one group to receive the grant. The winner was the biodegradable packaging to slow the pollution in the Arctic Circle.
Authentic Jury Feedback
Finally, understanding the power of outside influence, Mrs. Collier invited the 3 jury members to give constructive feedback to the teams. This particular team was powerful because one member is a former high school English teacher, one deals with budgets and deciding longevity of a project, and the third deals with grant applications daily and knows what to look for. The feedback given to the students included standard points about body language, confidence, volume, diction, and eye contact. After that, the jury explained the strengths of each group’s idea. Finally, the jury explained how important it is to cover all of the research thoroughly, and that knowledge of the subject matter is what ultimately gave us the confidence to grant one group $4 million.
Authentic Learning Take-Aways
This experience raised the level of engagement for the students because they had an authentic audience. Mrs. Collier did a fantastic job creating a real-world scenario with a real-world issue. Kudos to her and her students for their hard work and dedication to learning.
If you are interested in creating more authentic experiences for your students, I recommend heading to YouTube for a basic search. We found plenty of examples that served as an outline for what we wanted to do.
If you have participated in authentic activities with your students, please leave a comment to start a discussion. I’d love to hear from you about how things went and what we can learn from one another’s experiences.
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Today, Señora Stewart’s Spanish I students at West Ashley High School worked on their family naming project on iPads. Without technology it is usually a written project; however, Señora Stewart and I worked to move it from the substitution level of SAMR to modification by including audio recordings, too.
The usual project was to create a poster of their imaginary family tree with photos of their imaginary family members and Spanish naming to go with each one. For example, a student might choose a picture of Johnny Depp as her father, and his picture would be labeled “Mi padre es Johnny Depp.” Without technology, this poster project usually takes two 45 minute periods.
As a member of the CCSD Digital Learning Cohort, Señora Stewart shares a cart of iPads with another cohort member. Wanting to digitize this project, Señora Stewart decided to use the iPads. Using either Keynote or Google Slides, the students were given requirements to create their family tree with the same titles and pictures AND a 2 descriptive sentences in Spanish. At this point, the project is purely substitution/augmentation on the SAMR chart, so Señora Stewart and I worked to add something new to the project.
Because foreign language standards require heavy duty communication activities, we wanted to work in a verbal recording of the presentation. To solve this request, we decided the students could insert their slides into iMovie and then record the words on the slide for each slide. Now, we are at modification in the SAMR model.
On the day of the project launch, I met with 1/3 of the class in a quiet space to teach them how to use iMovie. It took approximately 25 minutes to go over how to personalize a Google Slide show, take and insert a screen shot, add an audio recording, lengthen or shorten the picture to match the recording, add transitions, and more.
Once the training was complete, that first group became the “iMovie Geniuses” for the class. Upon returning to the class, each Genius took on two trainees and trained them on iMovie. The students were not told to stand and teach, but some chose to.
In the end, Señora Stewart’s class doubled its skills assessed because it included both written and spoken Spanish. This type of active assessment moves students from a fun exercise to one that is more challenging because it uses 21st century skills and incorporates the 4 Cs. I am curious to see how class achievements will change as Señora Stewart becomes more confident and comfortable with the iPads and as she progresses in the Digital Learning Cohort in her district. It is time to start collecting data from the students about their interest levels and their skill levels when it comes to Spanish. There is no guarantee that student learning is improving using digital devices, and it is our job to analyze the data and share the results.
If you are interested in collaborating about World Language learning using digital devices, please do not hesitate to contact me directly or leave a comment below.