I’m in one of those walking-on-water teacher moments, when a plan comes off way better than I had any cause to hope.
It’s finals week for seniors. This year, all my students are doing my favorite final: the ten-year reunion.
The kids are very ready for this (oral) final, for many reasons. We’ve done Star of the Day. We’ve talked about the highlights of living in cities and about some of the problems cities around the world face. We’ve interviewed guests. Recently, I thought of some questions students might ask classmates ten years hence, and I asked kids for their suggestions before I unveiled mine. Theirs included, “Are you happy?” and “What are your dreams now?” as well as “Why did you choose to live where you are?”
Students are to bring pictures, but they don’t have to, as support for their talks. They will speak in small groups (we might have food and drinks on the official final date to further the idea of a party), and I will hang at the edge of groups making notes on a checklist.
Today, two seniors had to begin the process early because of AP and IB exam interference with their last week of school. We divided the class in two, and each group reunited with the seniors separately. Some kids used the list of questions we had devised, but many asked natural questions that arose, and a few asked clarifying questions, as I did.
I loved it! These are kids who were reared on Storytelling, but we haven’t done much lately. I was touched that they reverted to flights of fancy, even though they are so mature. I was first blown away by the abilities of my senior boy who talked about living on the moon after his parents unexpectedly passed away. He had fathered a child, but had not married. He was a doctor, and that made living on the moon interesting because of the different kinds of ailments that arose there. He was ready, however, to return to the Earth, because he never got to see his child in person, and because he had mostly recovered from the depression that hit him after losing his parents and the ending the relationship with the mother of his child. The senior girl had married Putin (who was now 77), was living in a house built on a bee that she had met in Canada (though I didn’t ever hear why she went there). She had ten children, though one had fallen from the rooftop of the flying house and perished. She had studied French in Mexico during college and liked the flexibility of living on a flying house. (Her story didn’t quite earn a solid “Holds together” grade – see #2, below.)
Both kids were perfect first presenters. Putin’s wife had pictures, and the other student didn’t, so that gave kids both models. In both groups, students asked questions eagerly, and laughed or responded sympathetically where appropriate. One was a second-year student, and the other a fifth-year, yet they both managed the assignment at appropriate levels. It was easy to follow the rubric (a checklist), and everyone seemed relaxed. The only worry: we spent the entire class hour on the final with just these two. Granted, part of the hour was a review and improvement of the “rubric” (a checklist). And we took some time to move the tables around, but both students talked for about twenty minutes. I think that these will go faster as students get tired, but we will have to make sure the groups rotate a bit faster with more speakers.
Our checklist rubric had four parts to it:
- Comprehensibility: none/some/most/all
- Story holds together: not/a bit/mostly/completely
- Three or more details on at least four topics (circle): relationships, work, living situation, travel, hobbies, post-secondary education
- Language variety demonstrated (so that it can’t be all “this is a…”): description of belongings; what has been positive/negative; history; current life; motivations.
Students changed “family” under #3 to “relationships.” They added travel as well. I took a note from Bill Van Patten’s book, so #3 and 4 are “can’t/with effort/easily.” #4 disguises my checking for grammar: description requires adjectives, positive/negative requires impersonal (dative) forms, history requires past tense, current life requires present tense, and explaining motivation requires complex sentences.
I gave the students language samples of what I was expecting to hear in #4, and a couple kids pointed out that they would all be covered if they planned to answer our questions.
This final gave me a real sense of what kids can do with language at these levels. The format made it possible for them to be comprehensible. I could tell where they’d worked out a few parts of their presentations, but the ongoing questions at the “reunion” made it impossible to memorize everything. Stress was low, laughter high, and I am now looking forward to the rest of these.