In the Weeds: Fun with 20% Projects


Take a map and you (probably) won’t get lost


Well now…that didn’t go quite as planned.

The original title of this post was about failing but assessing to see where things went wrong. Keeping-the-good/learning-from-the-bad kind of a tone.

But I liked the idea and imagery of being a bit lost in the weeds a bit more. Maybe it’s more poetic yet still able to capture some my experiences with my seniors classes last year. 

For the ’16-’17 school year, I tried something new with my senior English classes, a 20% Time project, something like this, this or this. The concept is that students have a year-long project where, usually (but not always), they develop some sort of  service project or maybe they even create something (a product). The project does not have to be a community service, where students volunteer their time, etc, but many choose that route. (Not that there’s anything wrong with service, but too many students took that option too easily and created a project that was lacking depth and authenticity). Some also students took the route of learning something new (which, technically, is more of a Genius Hour type of project). And, yes, some students took the service option and created unique experiences. 

At the end of the year, students gave a presentation where they spoke about their project and what they learned.

Much of the idea behind the project is that it is student directed. Student choice and voice is something that I’m trying to get better at building into the classroom.   

Into The Wilderness

Convict Lake

I wandered into the wilderness, so to speak, with a colleague who was also boldly going into educational experiences neither of us had previously experienced.  

And it was…just ok.

Madeline Will has written about this very process in Education Week. In her article “What Happens When Students Design Their Own Assessments?” she writes, “Initially…a lot of the projects were ‘fluff,’ while teachers learned how to incorporate meaty content and the state standards into students’ projects.”

I can definitely say “yes, this happened.”

Of course, some students had very original and authentic learning experiences, and for that I felt privileged to be a part of the audience when they shared their experiences.   

What to do next time?

  1. I need to be better about having the students peer assess and self assess. They’re going to, basically, need to successfully argue (just as they might in an essay) for the grade they think they have earned. This puts the concept of the students being in charge of articulating their own learning. This needs to be taught – directly – starting at the beginning of the school year. It’ll also align with an increase of peer feedback (hello, Starr Sackstein) I want to be emphasizing this year as well.
  2. I’m not sure how to do this yet, but I need to create some sort of process that (hopefully) has more students choose/create projects that are more original and authentic, avoiding the projects that were nothing but “fluff.” This is a huge challenge. It’s like when we English teachers want students to produce more original writing that has more of an independent and unique voice. Asking students to do this is easy; creating the conditions for this to happen is the challenge.   
  3. There’s easily a step 3, 4 & 5 for what I need to be better at for the ’17-’18 school year for this project. Time spent in conversation with my intrepid 205 Time colleague @mrsbnakamura could yield some ideas.


Being in a thicket of weeds isn’t a bad thing. In John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, he writes “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”  



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s