The Problem Of The Long-Term

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Apr
  • 14
  • 2006

As we move to the end of the year, I spring long-term projects on my classes. The 3-week A Yellow Raft In Blue Water project for English 3 has groups reading only one section of the novel and preparing a presentation on that section according to specific guidelines. English 4’s Siddhartha project found the seniors with 2 weeks of class time for planning, practicing, and preparing their final on the novel. In each class, for the duration of the project, class time is turned over to the students in order to develop their ideas for the presentation. No lectures; no class readings; no homework; no due dates except the final product.

AP testing and all kinds of end-of-year nonsense make it reasonable to provide kids with a calendar and let them go at their own pace. I also enjoy ending the year in that way, suggesting to the students the control they have over their own education.

The problem I have, year after year, is that despite the week(s) of uninterrupted class time I give to classes and no matter the fact that the final product has a work load that necessitates as much time as possible to complete, those solid days where I start with announcements and then provide the entire class session for work to be done, those weeks where there’s no other work on their plate but this one project, those times where homework is a foreign term to us still fill up with groups who are not ready when the presentation is due.

And during those times that I leave the class open for students to work, I continually roam around and push groups back on task, only to find the other half of the room egregiously off task. The vicious cycle runs its course every day. And I run with it, moving from side to side and patiently urging students to work, work, work.

This year has been a revealing year for me in a lot of ways. The number one thing I’ve happened upon, though, is students don’t understand that they are sending a message about themselves through their actions. They really don’t get that it says something about them that they wasted hours and hours of time, only to be unprepared when it’s time to pay the piper. They don’t see that they send a message of ignorance when they turn in a malformed essay. And they don’t see the message of unreliability their poor attendance sends. Nor do they hear the clear promulgation of poor intelligence that their shoddy final product shouts out.

And I fear that they will send this message next year or the year after, to bosses, co-workers, friends, peers, and the like.

I feel like I fit that definition of insanity because I keep doing roughly the same unit plans and expecting different results. But I feel like it’s fairly realistic to set project requirements, set a final deadline, and then provide time to work. That’s how most jobs play out.

Am I wrong to provide long-term projects and expect a performance on the due date? Am I wrong to leave the agenda in the hands of students so they can set their own pace? Am I wrong to expect students to use the time I give them to get work done on what they know to be a big final performance? How do you approach long-term projects? Do you micromanage daily responsibilities? Is the idea of giving students enough rope to hang themselves irresponsible on my part? Are even juniors and seniors too young for that kind of responsibility? Should I not allow for groups to perform on days other than when they are scheduled, resulting in weeks of class time truly wasted if they miss the deadline since they can’t make up the task (or the points)?


1. Ben says:

[4/15/2006 - 4:04 am]

No Todd, you’re not wrong. In fact, you are preaching on the very skills that these students will need when they leave high school. They will encounter deadlines in college and in their careers, and in many cases they will be expected to meet the deadline with very little outside guidance. Without becoming accustomed to long term goals, and finding a way to manage their time efficiently students will increasing find ways to meet just short term goals. They will not develop the foresight they need to see where their current actions will lead them, and will simply see college and their careers as “jobs” because of it.

Giving them the tools they need to think longterm and to help them manage their work time will encourage them to see the “bigger picture” for lack of an original metaphor. They need to see that time they spend by themselves actually DOES affect time they spend in the future with teachers, business colleagues, and others. Far too many teenagers don’t make a connection between what they do independently and what they need to accomplish with others, which is probably what has led to the problems with MySpace; not enough students thinking forward enough to realize that a future employe, parent, or teacher may come across their homemade version of the “Jackass” movie and decide that they shouldn’t be hired, be grounded, or have others make preconceived notions of them based on their worst actions.

2. Cassandra Turner says:

[4/15/2006 - 7:29 am]

After a test on the French Revolution this week on which 50% of one of my 6th grade classes failed, even when graded on a curve, I vented to my student teaching supervisor. She replied:

“No one enters this gig with a philosophy statement of ‘I will make excuses for my students, have low expectations, and provided minimal hands-on, meaningful instruction,’…they were challenged. They were made to think and use higher order thinking skills. They were empowered and given the opportunity to be free- and critical-thinkers.”

Our students are give a calendar with suggested dates for their science projects. Based on what I’ve seen in class, 50-60% are following their project calendar at home. 10% are done and the rest haven’t started. It’s due Thursday. Learning to cram may be their lesson this week.

Stick to your philosophy.