I teach 11th grade American History and am currently in the middle of my Interwar Years Unit. This is a fairly large unit that covers the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and the New Deal. As such it has a lot of potential topics and projects for students to work with. This is a good problem to have but still has some challenges.
For this Unit I have created an interactive world map with several major quests, several side quests, and a few easter eggs. This means that in any given class I will have some students working on a physical breakoutedu, a digital version, creating a kids book, working through found poetry, analyzing several document projects, creating Sketchnotes based on New Deal projects, fighting an “Immortal Hate Beast”, or several other minor activities. This means juggling a lot of different projects and student goals but this is actually fairly easy to compensate for with a simple Google Sheet. The more difficult element is dealing with my own emotions in the face of student freedom.
The core purpose of creating the map and offering so many options is to give students meaningful choices. The choices are false ones though if there is no option to not participate. This means that I (the teacher) need to be willing to allow students this option. In order to mitigate the possibility of students just opting out en masse I need to consider various motivations. As I build the unit I include mechanics that will hopefully engage all the different player types. Importantly, it is important to note that player motivations are not static and will change from unit to unit, day to day, or even minute to minute.
Well, the problem is that failure option. I can build the units to the best of my ability but students have more motivations than are just in my classroom. Working with other students is motivating, but is that more motivating that texting better friends. Grades can be a motivator but sometimes other classes’ work is due the next class, is more pressing than mine, and students might try working on math instead of History. Sometimes students are working on mastering football or baseball after school and are too tired in my 1st block class.
This is when I need to have Patience.
Patience is not something that comes easily for me. I am active and enjoy being busy. It can be a challenge to allow students freedom to set their own schedules and work differently than how I would chose. My first instinct is to engage and explain how to work. My second is to get frustrated and irritable. These are instincts that need to be fought off through calm breaths and some casual discussions because without the meaningful choice to engage with the work this is a false freedom. Without the freedom to fail thier is no opportunity to feel the consequences of the failure. Without those consequences reflection, learning, and growth.
I am not one to fetishize failure. Often educators talk about failure when what they mean iteration. In this case though failure is the appropriate term. The concern then allowing a safety net to soften the blow of the failure while maintaining consequence. More thoughts on this in a seperate post.
The patience is paying off as well. The majority of students are beginning to reach the end of their quests. The conversations that I have overheard and the early results are very promising. The choice to participate can be engaging and highly motivating.