The Bow Tie Boys

The Bow Tie Boys

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Explaining a New Project

A week ago at school I heard about a new project in which several classes had partaken. The project was huge, accounting for almost 10% of the quarter grade. I wasn't in any of the classes that participated so I only heard the story through other students. Apparently, the project instructions were confusing and very poorly explained. The project format and concept were very new, yet some of the teachers explained the new project like it was similar to all the other projects the class had done previously. The poor explanation resulted in many students being confused and at first, they sought help from one another, but after that didn't go anywhere, they sought help from the teachers. However, some of the teachers gave minimal help and many students ended up not doing well on the project.

My friend James had to do this project. During lunch, he came over to my table and starting talking to me about the project. He described the project as, "completely different from anything we have done before, and really confusing". James also said, "I really didn't understand the instructions so once everyone went off to get started, I went up to my teacher and asked for clarification. They responded by saying that I should go ask my peers first, then come back, which I did. Even after getting no answers from everyone else in the class, my teacher still didn't re-explain the project." I felt bad for James, because I have been in a similar situation. I told him that he should try to go in during either study hall or in the morning. James replied "My teacher was probably just not in a good mood today. I think the project will make more sense if I go in for extra time. Thanks for the advice." As we parted at the end of lunch, I wished James good luck and reassured him that his teacher would probably clarify the situation. The next day, James went into school early to talk to his teacher. I was on the bus ride to school when he texted me, "I sent my teacher an email last night and she didn't respond, and when I went in this morning, she wasn't there, what should I do?" I replied by texting, "James, you can still go into study hall, it isn't the end of the world."

As I got off the bus and walked into school, I met up with James in the 10 minutes before class started. I could tell that James was in a bad mood. James immediately started talking about how stressed he was about this project, and how he was disappointed that his teacher wasn't there in the morning. He went on and on about the project, saying that even after thinking about it all night, he still was confused. As the warning bell rang, James told me that he was scared he was going to fail the project and that it would bring down his grade. I told him he shouldn't worry, that his teacher would probably thoroughly explain the project to him during study hall. We went to our classes and decided to meet up during lunch, which is right after James's study hall. As lunch approached, I was anxious to hear back from James. As I entered the cafeteria, I saw James waiting for me at the lunch table we usually sat at. The second I sat down he started talking to me about study hall. James went in to his teacher's room but his teacher was already teaching. When James walked in, his teacher told him to go to the back of the room and wait for a break in the material. James sat in the back of the room for almost an hour. Finally, when James's teacher came back to talk to him, they explained the project in a similar manner. James again told the teacher that he still didn't get it, so his teacher finally just told James the instructions in a slightly different way and James understood slightly more than before. Immediately following, the bell rang and James was dismissed from the classroom.

I told James to settle down and try getting help from students in other classes. Even after trying to ask a variety of students, James still didn't understand and ended up winging the project. The result, his grade dropped by 7% and he was very mad.

The main problem with this situation was the lack of explanation from James's teacher about the project. James's teacher not only explained the project in little detail, but when James went in to ask for some extra help, she explained the project in an identical way. If the explanation didn't make sense the first time, odds are that it didn't make sense a second time. That is a major problem I see everywhere. When an explanation doesn't make sense, try to explain it a different way or from a different point of view. Sometimes explaining the directions differently will clarify the situation.

The final problem with this project was the grading that went into it. The grade was based on a rubric with no room for student choice. The rubric essentially told the students exactly what parts they needed in their project. This had no room for creativity and didn't allow the students to bring in or use any unique skills. These sorts of projects "Don't address the unique learning styles, the extraordinary ideas, the honest thinking, or the unique learning styles." (Seeking Diversity, 1992) When limited on creativity, most students lose passion and enthusiasm. On projects especially, there are several ways to integrate student preferences and passions, even in different subjects. In science, students can present on a new, interesting scientific achievement related to the current unit and explain the science behind the achievement and the impact it will have on the future. In history, have students pick and explain one aspect of history that is of interest i.e. government, architecture, social life, technology etc. In every field, there are ways to incorporate student interest into projects and other classroom work. The other great thing about having students pick sort of sub topics is that students that are interested in being an architect, can show their passion about being an architect. An student who is into art and drama will have more passion explaining the art and drama of ancient Rome than explaining the military structure of ancient Rome. If access to the internet is available, that is also a great tool to use. Joel Spring even wrote, "Naturally, the idea of e-learning is tied to the educational requirements of the global economy. " (American Education, 2006) When students are given an option to incorporate their interest into schooling, the students will put more effort into the project and take care in completing it more. All students have an interest, waiting to be used in school. Many students are frustrated that they can't incorporate their interests in their learning. By letting students incorporate their specialization into learning, the students have a passionate view and they learn just as much, if not more, compared to being forced to work on something they don't take interest in. All kids "can learn, if they want to learn." (Seeking Diversity 1992) Giving students some choice can give them the "want" to learn. As Joel Spring describes in chapter 8 of American Education, students were originally taught under the assumption that they would be factory workers and have other laborious jobs. Projects like these separate the students learning from being tedious and repetitive, into something where everyday, something is different, new, and exciting.

I hope all the teacher's reading this can incorporate ideas from here into their classrooms, which I am sure are already a fun, happy place where students get to work together, have a great, personal relationship with the teacher, are taught beneficial skills and concepts, and are allowed some choice and specialization in their learning.

Works Cited:

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

Spring, Joel H. American Education. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006.                                                 


  1. Hey there! It's nice when teachers are able to reflect and change their teaching to best benefit their students! Thank you for your post. I agree that clear directions, helpful advice, and choice in learning can help students to shine!

  2. It's amazing to me how reflective this post is Joe and how your words can help us as teachers. I am so happy that you are contributing so much to educators everywhere and I can't wait to read more ahead

  3. Great post, Joe. It sounds like the "rubric" was really a checklist. I was so fortunate when a colleague in assessment got it though my brain and into my actions that if something was "yes / no" or could be counted - it should never go on a rubric. Rubrics are about qualities and characteristics! (Worked for me anyway!)

    Great post and yes . . . re-explaining without a model to consult or a different way to explain the process seems to NOT be helpful!