I love surprises! I especially love surprises in the classroom and today, my students surprised me with their creativity and ingenuity.

Our school board had a board wide professional development day on the Monday of this past week with a focus on differentiated instruction. Personally, I love DI and make a conscious effort to include it in my lessons and after Monday’s focus, it is even more so on my mind. What I really liked about our discussions were that they talked about differentiating based on abilities but also on interests. With that inspiration in mind, I created a lesson that my grade ten academic English students engaged in today.

We have just started Romeo and Juliet in that class and for many students, Shakespeare is not their favourite part of the course. One of my goals for this unit is to make it an ‘experience’ not just another text we ‘have to’ study. Knowing that I would be in a computer lab today, I decided to bring Italy to life for my students.

I had the students chose their own groups and each group chose their own topic. (We did have some serious Rock, Paper, Scissors contest though :)) The topics were:

1. Naturalists – the students pretended they were travel agents or tour guides in Verona, Italy and designed a page on our wiki highlighting all the tourist attractions complete with maps, images, and videos of the ‘must-see’ places there.

2. Verbal and Logical – the students who chose this group are my ‘history buffs’ and their task was to research where Shakespeare got his inspiration for Romeo and Juliet as well as what life would have been like during that time period. They were to examine the monarchy and how the ‘common’ person would have lived.

3. Interpersonal – a lot of the students who chose this particular group are very feelings oriented and they spent a lot of time looking up Italian culture. They focused mainly on religion and the Italian language but also included ideas like celebrations and holidays.

4. Musical/Artistic – my musicians and artists were definitely prevalent in this group as they explored the music and art that was popular in Shakespeare’s day and the compared it to today’s popular culture.

5. “Girly-Girl” group – being as I teach a lot of girls, I had a group of students researching traditional Italian weddings and then comparing them to contemporary Italian weddings. This particular group definitely had fun and I heard many compliments on the fashions they found in their research.

After back-to-back classes of the same activity, I noted a few details:

1. The students really showed creativity when it came to organizing their information. There are glogs, videos, slideshows, Voki speaking avatars, music, virtual tours and of course a ton of images. Some of the students were hesitant at first about making this their own source of information, but as the class progressed, many of them were employing so such different means and having fun at the same time that I was really overwhelmed with their enthusiasm!

2. The students used many different means of collaborating. I saw Google Docs, Edmodo, regular email and even Facebook being used productively. The students were sharing the information in ways that are familiar to them and if they are going to use Facebook in a productive fashion, I’m all for it!

3. The students extended the task. In my original directions, I had asked them to create pages on our class wiki to share their information, but I had students creating mini videos in Adobe Premiere Elements as they thought that would better explain their topic rather than just having a wiki page. I also had a student in the travel group who wanted each person to actually be in Verona so she used the website FACEinHOLE to put each person’s face in a photo taken at a famous location there. It was just amazing to see!

Since the classes, I have been reflecting and in all honesty, I’m still overwhelmed at how well the lesson went today. It yet again supports all the research being presented to us. Differentiated instruction works. Giving the students real world connections works. Providing the students with opportunities to show their creativity works. Finally, showing trust and releasing responsibility works. Excellent reminders on a sunny afternoon in the weeks leading up to March break!

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