Managing a Classroom with Engaging Tasks

I'm continually reminded how much an engaging task eliminates behavior problems. Over the past several years, I've revamped a lot of my curriculum to allow students to do something in order to learn. And now every day reminds me how cool students are and how important it is for me to give them opportunities to share that awesome.

In seventh grade we're finishing up a unit on the oral tradition. It's not my favorite unit by any means, but I'm often struck by how much my students love it. We hear stories from multiple different cultures, and we take the time to share stories from our own cultures. This year I've also been trying to focus on how telling oral stories impacts the telling of our stories by using GarageBand and PhotoBooth to record what we've written.

We're now in the final project of the unit: creating a folktale of their own that properly demonstrates the elements of story. And although this is often a class where I feel like I need to assert my alpha-(fe)male dominance, during this project, I'm having to do very little to keep students on task. Some are working with partners, some are working by themselves, but all of them are in the zone, creating their stories.

Lego Shipwreck created by one of my students.

And I know this can't always be the case, but I'm amazed at how much students learn by doing this project. Yeah, some students are using Minecraft with their friends, but through that they're telling a story and creating a setting. Some students are building with Legos, but it's teaching students to work together and consider one another's opinions. Others are drawing pictures and learning the careful balance of visual and verbal communication.

It is weird though, I must say, to give up the control to my students. I'm still mentoring and asking questions, but I'm always amazed by how much they accomplish with their brains when given the freedom. It's teaching me to continually cast vision and then step back and watch as they make my vision a reality.