Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Best Assignment I've Ever Given

I might have just given the best assignment ever in my teaching career.

We've been talking about Education Reform in ED101 lately. We've been discussing things like merit pay for teachers, Standards-based education, No Child Left Behind, full-service schools, charter schools, open-enrollment, and vouchers. There's a lot in there, so today I wanted to get a sense of their thinking so far.

Hence the in-class assignment today:

You are a band. You are working on a new album celebrating school reform movements of the last 15 years or so.
- Decide on what style of music your band plays (polka? hip hop? death metal?) and come up with a name for your band.
- Create a track list for your album of at least 10 songs. Give them creative, descriptive titles that get at what these ideas in school reform are all about.
- Create an album cover that conveys the style of music your band plays. It should include the album name, the name of your band, and appropriate artwork for the content of the album.

I'll admit, there was some trepidation as they came to pick up big sheets of paper and markers and crayons, but after an initial couple of minutes of head-scratching and making tentative suggestions to their group members, there was a busy hum of energy in the room, and even laughter. After giving them a good bit of time to work on their albums, we shared them. Pretty hilarious results:

Band names included:
- Innovation (power pop)
- Better than Ezracation (cheesy 90's pop-rock)
- Kenny Montana & the Iowa Boys (bluegrass twang)
- Teacherland (mainstream country)
- Skeweled (hard rock)

Some of the best album titles included:
- "Reform for the Broken"
- "Nothin's the Same Anymore"
- "Giving Back to America"
- "Snow Day"
- "Disney's School Reform Hits" [This was amazing--including songs like "I'll Make a Teacher Out of You" and "Can you Feel the Change Tonight?" and "Be Our Guest (In Full Service Schools)"]

My favorite song titles:
- "Strictly District"
- "What School Has Done to Me Lately" [Janet Jackson, anyone?]
- "Voucher Style"
- "A Nation at Risk"
- "CSRD (Yeah You Know Me!)"
- "Kiss My Ass(essment)"
- "Left Behind (It Ain't Gonna Be Me!)"

They hung their albums up on the walls and we took a walk around the room to see what everyone else had come up with. Lots of laughter and knowing nods. Best comment I overheard as they were leaving class: "I knew it was going to be good when I saw markers and crayons coming in, but this was really fun!"

Okay, so having a "fun" class doesn't automatically make it a good lesson, right? But what I noticed as the groups were working was a lot of pulling out their textbooks to make sure they were thinking straight, making arguments, looking things up online with smartphones and laptops to extend their learning, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and--yes--laughter. They were internalizing the ideas we had read and discussed, and making connections, both with each other and between the ideas.

I'm going to refine this lesson (of course it wasn't perfect...they never are), but this one is definitely going to be used again!


  1. Alternative assessment at its best!

  2. Replies
    1. Barb, you are so right! That might be the next level--have them *record* the songs they list on the album... :-)

  3. Sounds fun! I want to hear the songs next. Maybe you should collaborate with the Teaching Music class.