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The case for projects

(and I am NOT a fan!)


(~4 min read)


Today was our last official class of the semester in elementary SPAN 1002. It was the day that students were presenting their projects, and... I was actually looking forward to it!


Let me be clear. I can't stand projects. I think it mostly has to do with the idea that I should maybe use a rubric or have clear instructions - neither of which is my strong suit. As a rule, I hate them. Rules, that is. But back in early March (?), one of my students (the outgoing Haitian-American kid who actually speaks Spanish because he's a manager at a McDonald's) asked if they could make a movie about the book they were reading in class.


"A trailer?" I asked, knowing full well what it might take to produce a movie.

"No, a short film," he said.

"Do I have to be involved?" I asked.

"No. Though we might have to shoot a scene in class," he replied.

"Great," I said. "Have at it."


And they did.


They immediately passed around a paper to get contact info and that was that. It was on. I kept tabs on what was going on, but only for conversational purposes. They would still have to complete all coursework and blah, blah, blah. And then I saw the spreadsheet:

They weren't messing around. They had scheduled filming for AFTER class. Wow.


Not everyone signed on to be a part of the film, but that was okay. Those that did were TOTALLY into it. And they followed the schedule. And the movie was delivered two days ago, with the première today in class.


IT. WAS. PHENOMENAL.


I told the students that the only real requirement was that the product LOOK good. They did not disappoint. The filming and the editing were very well done. And the Spanish, that was pretty good, too, considering that there was no script and no memorization. The students worked together to recreate the story (or change it up in some way to make the story easier to tell).


But here's the thing: they had a freakin' ball making the film. There were first year students and 27-year-olds, heritage speakers and students who uttered two words. There were students who are VERY grade conscious and others who just want to graduate. There were day scenes and night scenes and inside scenes and out. They went to someone's house and another one's apartment. There was a blooper reel. It was all on point.


But the best part of this as far as this empath of a college instructor (mid-pandemic) is concerned: the students had a good time. They interacted. There were no phones involved, save for the filming. They talked to each other. They hung out. It was beautiful. One student said today, "Dang, I already miss you guys."


Job done.


Was all rosy on the block? Uh, no. The videographer and editor felt put upon at the end. The others went along their merry way and she was stuck with the brunt of the work. She was annoyed, perhaps rightfully. So I asked her, "Did you bite off more than you could chew?"


Reluctantly, she agreed.


"And you're annoyed at the rest of the group because you said you would edit?"


A slight head nod.


"So what did you learn about yourself?" I asked.


Silence.


This student and I talked about how to set boundaries: "I am willing to do this, but I need help with that," and communication: "Peeps, I need help here." All lessons are valuable. I spoke with the other folks in the group, too, and asked them to reach out to her. They did.

By the time of the première, all was well. In fact, a few of them in their very informal project presentations, gave a shout out to their videographer/editor (who really did an amazing job).


There were a lot of lessons learned throughout this process. And 99% of them had NOTHING to do with language learning. I. Don't. Care. And I know the students didn't, either. Perfect. I teach humans, not Spanish.


For students to want to go out into the world and use the language that I'm trying valiantly (okay, some days not so much) to impart, getting together to create such a project was a crap shoot for all of them.


But wouldn't you know that we all rolled snake eyes on this one.


Jen Deg's hot take: if you can, allow for student-led projects and, I know this will be tough, STEP ASIDE. Don't put any of those pyramid/standard/rubric rules on them. Provide one requirement and stick to that and see what happens. Y'all might learn something completely different.


Stay tuned for part II of the Case for Projects...there were more good ones!!


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