Keeping high school seniors engaged during second semester is a particular adventure, especially as they work to complete final projects. This week, I had a small victory–and I’m eager to hear from you so this victory can be multiplied!

My seniors are currently in the nearing the final stages of their yearlong, senior inquiry project.

On paper, the project is actually one of my favorite assessments. Much of this stems from the authenticity of the task. Not the research paper writing, nor the presenting skills, but the fact that the project as a whole is asking students to intentionally work through the process of learning about or to do something new.

Unfortunately, the reality of implementing this choice driven, multipart assessment is quickly becoming the bane of my teacher existence this year. I see the value of the skills and have tried to maintain high hopes for student engagement, but the realities of teaching seniors are wearing me down. Trying to determine what the best ways are to support and motivate them on a project that requires a lot of autonomy has challenged my pedagogical creativity.

Then, this week, I had a breakthrough.

On Tuesday, we moved from the concrete work of writing a research paper to the choosing what will be included in their final presentations. To help them see how this might look, I modeled a presentation for them.

I took a real-life question I’ve been working on in my personal life for the past eight months, did a little concrete research and used our assignment guidelines/standards to craft an example of what their presentations might look like.

I figured if students could see that learning isn’t something that is confined to school settings and see me, as their teacher, taking the risk of standing up and presenting something pretty personal, they would see purpose for this project. Because that is the purpose for this project—helping students to come to the realization adults still learn and then giving them tools for how to do this. 

I want to help my students realize that adults still learn and give them tools to help them do just that.

I “purposefully” procrastinated on putting my presentation together so they could see the messiness of a less than polished product. I also let them critique me and engaged in dialogue with them about how I might revise or change my presentation if I had another chance to give it.

After we talked through their observations, I asked them to begin the process of outlining/storyboarding their own presentations. While they worked, I was able to informally conference with a handful of students about ideas they were thinking about and potential hooks and activities that would work with their content.

By showing them that I am still a student myself and that my own learning can be just as varied and messy as theirs, I had one of those fantastic moments as a teacher when the kids and I seemed to be on the same page, which is kind of awesome.

Second semester with seniors is tough. I know that I will always be fighting against senioritis to win my students’ focus away from graduation and beyond. But I’m excited to rethink this project for next year so that I can hopefully get to this place of flow earlier. Maybe that will help all of us keep our heads in the game longer.

I’m also sure that my school is not the only school to assign a senior inquiry project, so I turn to you, virtual colleagues. What has helped you and your peers find success with projects such as these? What ideas/successes/struggles can you share to help this larger collaborative team find success with second semester seniors?  

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