When the Ripples Return
A couple of days before the last day of class one of my colleagues, Paul Clark, mentioned an end of the year idea that he was doing with his English classes. He gave his students ballots to vote on different categories for the readings they had done in class: Best Novel, Best Character, Biggest Jerk, etc. He gave them the ballots the day before classes ended, tallied the votes, and created cards and envelopes for students to read as part of an awards ceremony in class. He said students had a good time doing it each year and it was a good way to reflect on and appreciate all they had done over the course of the year.
Of course, I stole it.
I did add a few technological twists and it was one of these that created a surprising ripple effect. My students voted using a Google form that I set up for them and therefore, all the results were placed in a spreadsheet. The next day Paul was using tally marks to compute scores before classes began. I sat next to him, showed him the spreadsheet, pressed one button, and the results were automatically computed and a colorful piechart created for each category. There was hardly any taunting at all in my huge grin as I moved the screen into his face.
"But you don't get to see the drama of the vote unfolding," said Paul.
Totally true. I think I mentioned that as teachers, we've got plenty of free time to devote to tally mark drama. It's difficult not to be a little snarky by the end of the school year.
It was something I added at the last minute to the "ceremony" that created the unforeseen ripple. I decided to Tweet out the results during my last period of the day but expected little to no response - like a stone tossed in a pond: Plop. Ripples. Silence.
But that was not the case. There were several retweets from former students a few years removed from my class, usually mentioning one of their favorites from their time in my class. Maybe it was their retweets or the fact that I put the school name as a hash tag but the response became even more interesting. There were severals former students who were "outraged" that a particular novel was voted as "worst." Of course, they had every reason to be upset because there is nothing on my book list that could ever be called worst of anything! I had to explain to them that that category is especially useful to me in determining which readings I need to do a better job of teaching. If I had done a better job, it would not be a worst. If that explanation didn't satisfy, I went to the tried and true and mentioned that they were only freshmen. They have some learning and growing to do.
The ripple created by those simple tweets became a way to draw in past students and continue a conversation that began their freshman year in high school. It also gave them a chance to see what had left an impression after several years.
One of those former students is lucky enough to get to do it every day of the school year and he does an amazing job in the process. Hopefully, one day, I can show him how to overcome his reliance on tally marks.