As I explore education in the 21st century I am frequently reminded that it is not about the tool but the methods. It's time that we rethink how we teach so that our students can learn to teach themselves as this is the most important lesson they can learn to prepare themselves for an unknown future.
So I threw the deadline out the window. I gave my senior level World Cultures a project intended to give them the opportunity to creatively explore the main theme of the novel and apply it to themselves. The initial two weeks of school for us were more than normally chaotic as my school has switched to a new type of schedule (a different order of classes each day) and we had an Upper School retreat at the end of last week. The day before the project was due I realized that I hadn't spent much class time reminding them to work on the project or asking about their out of class project. I made the executive decision to scrap the deadline when I realized that I would rather get a great final product than a rush job.
As I considered what to adjust the deadline to I realized that a more valuable lesson could be learned. The work that we are now doing in class is not contingent on them having completed the project so there really was no reason to have a deadline. When I initially announced my inclination to extend the deadline, I was a bit surprised that none of my students jumped on this. Not one of them asked for the extension. In talking more with them I found that this hesitation was not due to their prior organization and readiness to actually turn in the project on time. The hesitation was actually a fear. They wondered: Is this some kind of test? Is she trying to catch the ones who haven't even started yet?
Finally after a bit of a one-sided conversation on my part, my students began to warm up to the idea of this kind of freedom. When I said that they were so used to being told what to do and when to do it by teachers, several sighed and laughed a little. I was touching on some chord that these students had not encountered in their educations (remember: they're seniors). We realized that there was no need for a deadline on this project, and talked about why there was a deadline on the reading assignment. The only final deadline we could come up with is the end of the marking period because the grade will be on this term.
After all of this thought about the unimportance of an actual deadline it is interesting to consider if the assignment itself is worthwhile. I still think so and now more than ever. Now it's really about working for yourself and being completely responsible for yourself.
Today (the original deadline) we went around the room and each person explained their idea and how they were (or were going to) execute it. Yes, some still haven't started yet! I pointed out the blank wall in the back of my classroom where I am going to hang all of the projects as they are completed and I do have one all ready to hang. So we'll all know who and when these projects are completed.
I'll keep you posted. And I'll keep asking them to reflect on this and hopefully learn even more than the original intended lesson. I'm open to exploring new avenues.