Why I Do the Same Student Projects Over Again

I once gave the advice to new teachers that they should rip apart their lesson plans at the end of the year. I said something to the extent of “If you’re doing the same unit in two years that you were doing this year, you are making yourself irrelevant.”

It was an arrogant, bold claim coming from a mindset that we always need to be pushing harder, working tirelessly and trying radically new things all the time. Be innovative. Be bold. Be wild. Break out of the factory walls of industrial education and whatnot.

I get it. We need to be trying new things. But there’s this other side that also matters. We need to be evolving. We need to be refining our craft. Yes, I want to try projects that are entirely new just to see if it works. However, there’s also a place for taking what didn’t work and fixing it. There’s also a place for taking what worked and improving it. And there’s a place for taking what is working well and tweaking it.

If it truly is about refining craft as teachers, there’s something powerful about a time-tested project that teachers modified year after year. I get it. Each group is different. The times change. And yet, there’s something to be said about things that are classic and sustainable. A great project is a great project. There’s something powerful about taking what works and modifying it based upon the identity and interests of each new student I get.

Right now, I’m doing a project that is time-tested, another that is a revision of a past project and then one that is entirely new. I have a group of students working on a blogging project. I knew ahead of time that it would work. I’ve spent ten years refining the process with students. I have another project, the Scratch Video Game Project that I’m revising based upon how badly it tanked last year. It’s still far from amazing. I’m still reflecting on all the screw-ups I’m making along the way. I’m about to start a global collaborative project that I’ve never done before.

If I want to be creative as a teacher, I think I need a mix of all three types of projects. The first kind improves my craft and quality while keeping me confident. The second kind helps me to think reflectively and learn the art of fixing what’s broken. The last kind humbles me and reminds me that I’m still figuring out how to be a teacher after eleven years.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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One response

  1. Hello Mr. Spencer. I am in college and going to school to become a teacher. Thank you again for sharing your blogs and experiences. They are very educating and encouraging to me as a future teacher. I like all of the different projects that you use in your classroom. I totally agree with the fact of not throwing out last years work, but instead modify it to make it better. I do not think we should just throw out lesson plans or projects, but use it to make ourselves better. Thank you for your inspiring and experienced posts!

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