Sometimes the lessons students remember the most are those that end up looking very little like the original lesson plan. Sometimes the most valuable learning comes from a random idea or a split second decision made by the teacher three steps from the classroom door. This happened to me the other day, and I have to admit, I felt an odd mixture of discomfort at relinquishing control and awe at my students and their creativity. I had a meticulously planned lesson where I knew that my Year 10 students would leave knowing which Italian verbs are irregular in the imperfect tense, but something didn’t feel right as I headed towards the classroom…as well-planned as the lesson was, I wasn’t keen on it so I doubted my students would be.
So I changed my mind at the last second. The new lesson outcome would be that students would leave the 40 minute lesson knowing the most common irregular verbs, and being able to construct one of them. I decided to take a calculated risk and try something that a colleague from another Catholic school (@LaProfOz on Twitter – look her up, she’s a genius!) had presented at a recent workshop – learning Italian verbs through songs. Now this was way out of my comfort zone as I cannot sing to save my life, but I knew that I had some outgoing students who could lead it for me….so I took a deep breath and dove in! I set the students to task in small groups almost immediately, allocating them an irregular verb each. They had the lesson to create a very basic rap or song that would help other to learn their assigned verb. Emphasis on ‘help others to learn’, meaning it had to be catchy, not complex.
Thinking a lesson was plenty of time, I unleashed my genuinely excited little song-writers and wandered, listening to their conversations and trying to give suggestions despite my lack of musical prowess. That’s when I realised that maybe a lesson wouldn’t be enough…by the time groups tried to get the ball rolling between themselves, argued with other groups over who would be able to use a particular song as their background, and then tried to start writing, we got very little done. The task was almost too simple and they seemed to feel the need to complicate it!
We persisted in the following lesson and managed to get a little further. Finally, on Tuesday, some groups began to record their raps and submitted them. Listening to what are some highly creative ‘masterpieces’, I noticed that a couple of the groups had let their imagination run wild, but missed the purpose of the text they were creating….elements of their verb were scattered through the rap (cleverly dubbed over Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’) but it was mostly in English and would be difficult for students to remember the Italian verbs strategically injected among lots of English. One group did get it though, and although they themselves initially had a low opinion of their product, I think it’s great! Their verb was ‘bere’ (to drink) so they made up a short rap that repeated the forms of bere, in the process recounting a tragic story of the star-crossed lovers ‘Latte’ (milk) and ‘Succo’ (juice). Funnily enough, each one of those students got ‘bere’ 100% correct in their test.
Upon reflection, the lesson task had not gone quite as I would have hoped, but there were positive signs for its success if we were to try it again. The students were engaged, even if some of them had missed the purpose of their product. They talked about the task with students from other Italian classes, and even the Year 11 and 12 students had hear about what they were doing. Next time I would do it with more specific guidelines, and perhaps give the students the opportunity to choose their groups and the goal of having to teach one of the junior classes.
And whilst I would never advocate for throwing lesson plans out the window completely, I am glad that I gave up control on this one. If I hadn’t moved outside of my own comfort zone, I never would have known!