Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Identity Project: Photo Essay

Students just finished presenting their photo essays. This was the first summative unit project for the year-long, PBL-based EL course I am teaching that is based on identity. Here is a blog post with background on the Identity Project

For the photo essay, EL students had to use 3-5 photos that represented different parts of their identity. Students then wrote a 2-5 minute presentation that answered the question "who am I". Students then presented their photo essay to another teacher in a sit-down, job interview format.

Warm Feedback

The students did phenomenal work. And given that this is all new to me, I'm happy with my work as well. I'm primarily a math teacher, so the content of the class can feel intimidating to me (I'm using social just standards from tolerance.org as well as CA state ELD standards). However, I've done PBL (in math) numerous times and, while I'm not an expert, I feel confident in my ability to guide students through a project. 

I gave the students a survey after they gave their final presentations. I asked them to tell me three things they learned, two things they would do differently next time and one thing they are proud of. I'm really glad I gave the survey--their responses felt validating. (the photo essay presentations were in English, but I let students reflect in their preferred language).  These comments are data. And I feel like this data suggests I was trying to teach for social justice and that I had some success. 

My favorite thing about PBL (and this unit) was the multiple opportunities that students had to get feedback on their final product BEFORE they actually were done with the product. I gave each student three rounds of feedback with time for revision. I had a few other teachers volunteer their time to give each student feedback using the same rubric used for the final presentation a week before the students actually did the final presentations. The students gave each other feedback using the final presentation rubric. In the three weeks dedicated to project work time, each student received feedback at least 5 times.  After each feedback round, students dedicated time to revise their presentation. And this resulted in a high-quality product for the students. 

Final Rubric

I like that I broke down each part of the final presentation and then taught ALL THE SKILLS with formative feedback cycles. We did lessons (with feedback) on eye contact, shaking hands, academic vocabulary, hand gestures, posture, and project-specific vocabulary and language (about identity and expressing one's identity). I wish I had done pronunciation lessons--that is for the cool feedback! 
A rubric for formative feedback

I'm forever thankful for tolerance.org and their wonderful, rigorous, well-organized, rich bank of teaching for social justice resources. I used so much of their material in this unit. Their standards are really specific and clear and helped give my instruction a clear social-justice purpose. They had grade-level specific readings, lessons, activities, teaching strategies and more. Check it out! 

There was lots of opportunity for student choice in this project. Students could choose their photos. They could choose how to present them (slides, an instagram, in a document). Students could also choose what type of final interview they would have. Some students have been in the US longer and their conversational English is better. I encouraged these students to be open to questions from their interviewer--I suggested they think of the final presentation as more of a conversation. The newest students, however, were quite nervous for their first English presentation. They could choose to have no questions and stick to a script the whole time. 

Cool Feedback

I wish I had done more lessons with feedback on pronunciation. After all, I teach newcomers that speak little to no English. And they presented about their identity--in English! They did amazing and the feedback from the judges was overall very positive, but there was a clear need for more pronunciation instruction. I'm not a language teacher so it makes sense that I didn't see this until after the fact. While I did give feedback on pronunciation as part of our work, there was no explicit pronunciation teaching/feedback happening in the unit.  Pronunciation is definitely something I am adding to our current unit! And this is something I will add to Unit 1 for next year. 

We did two close readings in this unit. Little Red Riding Hood and The Ugly Duckling. Both fit well into the theme of identity, however, I wish I had done at least one of the readings I picked out from tolerance.org. I ended up doing the tolerance.org readings in the second unit and they were a big hit with the students AND the readings sparked a rich class discussion on immigration. I think a reading related to immigration would have added to the bank of ideas students used to create their photo essays and enriched the final products. This is something I'll add for next year. 

Final Thoughts

The students excelled in this project. Newcomer EL students, some in the US for less than one month, gave a presentation on their identity in English! Students talked about how their identity changed when they came to their new country; how their identity changed as their language changed. Students talked about being a proud Guatemalan and a US citizen (we discussed the difference between race and nationality).  These weren't just about food and flags. Their essays spoke to individual traits like shyness or extrovertedness. Their essays gave insight into the complicated lives of immigrant teenagers in a new school with a new language. Students talked about how parts of their identity stayed the same, like religion or hobbies, while others changed, like working and going to school. 

In our next project students will be making a podcast that educates the teachers/staff at our school on how to improve educational outcomes for EL students. Students will have a lot of choice in terms of content and style of the podc

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