As much experience as I thought I possessed, as a first-year teacher I'm still guilty of making assumptions about students in my classroom, and when the Constitution Announcement Project came to an end last week it was clearly evident in the group work which was submitted for final grading. For a first-time project, I was pleased with the results as a good segment of students demonstrated both interest and creativity in their final exhibit; however, it still fell short of my expectations. Amongst the eighteen groups, I was expecting to find one or two which excelled far beyond others, but there was little difference in the overall quality from one end of the spectrum to the other.
As I reviewed each of the posters, I recall pointing out specific information regarding historical facts dealing with ideas, people, and places associated with the signing of our Constitution in 1787...but no one took advantage of these, focusing instead on information which was readily available via aquick-n-easy Internet search via Google. In other words, they took the easy way out rather than seeking new information and content. I thought back to the first day when I assigned the project and how I supplied each individual with both rubric and resource report forms. From what I was able to survey no one worked from these sheets, and by all implications they made the assumption that I wasn't going to hold them accountable, despite my warnings.
It was then that I questioned myself about whether I had truly modeled it properly to the class as a whole in addition to each of the self-assigned groups. Even though I brought current day newspapers into the discussion, I didn't get them to lay their project side-by-side with one of those papers. I hadn't created my own project with which I could use to display the classifications of extraordinaire, above-average, average, below-average and not-acceptable. In return I was forced to accept work which was below their true capabilities, lowering my standards to ensure passing grades. (despite my adjustment, no one received a grade higher than C) Although I turned my head this time, I scolded myself for not modeling this properly for my students, making a promise that it would never happen again.
Despite my failings, I know my students came away with a better understanding of the events surrounding the creation of our Constitution since their final exam scores reflected a retention of knowledge. However, deep in my heart I now realize that it could have been better....and it will be next time I assign a project of similar magnitude. Over the next six weeks, my students will be knee-deep in research for our school's first National History Day project. As a result the lesson which I learned will surely benefit the way they not only gather information, but also in the ways which students present their ideas to the public...in itself raising the standards of quality for all.