Monday, February 16, 2015

From Poster to POEster: Project vs. Project Based Learning with EdgarAllan Poe

Project vs. Project Based Learning

What's the Difference?

Thanks to FriEdTechnology for sharing this useful chart to break it down.

Project Based Learning in ELA:  The Edgar Allan POEsters

   My favorite lessons are the ones that I didn't plan for.  Every year, it seems, the "projects" are not the ones that I had planned and I couldn't be happier when this happens.  It means the students are driving the instruction.  
  This time we were supposed to be studying "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, as part of our mystery themed unit.  We watched a documentary about Edgar Allan Poe and the students were so interested in the mysterious circumstances of his death, we got way off track with this "side project".  At first glance, you probably see posters on the wall and think project, but this is actually a really good example of project based learning in an English class.  The POEsters were necessary to present each group's top three theories to the class.  The group in the foreground of the photo could not narrow it down to three, so they have four.  
   In the interest of brevity, I am just going to give a very brief summary of four weeks of work.  I am leaving a lot out, so if you have questions please leave them in the comment section and I will elaborate.  I assigned students to a research teams to analyze the different theories and evaluate the credibility of the evidence for those theories to prioritize a list of the top three.  My initial question that I posed was which one theory do you find to be the most plausible due to the amount of supporting evidence.  The groups were really hung up on narrowing it down to one theory, even after a mini-lesson on the process of consensus decision making.  It was okay though because there was a lot of good debate going on in the groups.
   I work in a low income school district where about half of my students don't have computers, smart phones, or internet access at home, which makes researching at home an assignment I am not comfortable giving.   My access to tech in the classroom is limited as well.  I have six computers (no printer) which the students did use for additional fact checking, but I did the majority of the research for them. I printed and organized supporting documents into four clue sets.  
  1. The documentary
  2. Four articles from the internet 
  3. Primary source documents relating to Edgar Allan Poe's death
  4. Four more articles from the internet
   In their groups the evidence from the documents was analyzed, discussed, and the students were asked to come up with a hypothesis (yes we can hypothesize in English too).  Then the group would be presented with another clue set and re-evaluate their hypotheses based on the new evidence.  The process was repeated four times as each new clue set was assigned.  Then the students worked together to prioritize their list to the top three (or four in the one case) most believable theories.  They presented their theories with the evidence by making a POEster, which was then used in a gallery walk.  I teach multiple English classes, so they were critiquing many different groups' top three lists along with their evidence to support their positioning.    They were asked to describe if their thinking had changed or had the gallery walk confirmed their ideas.  They got their POEsters back and regrouped to  discuss the comments that were left on post it notes by viewers and to evaluate their work. Grades were based on exit ticket reflections and participation rubrics (one for gallery walk discussion and one for the work done in research teams) which the students filled out for themselves and their group members.  I graded the POEsters using a rubric, and since there were only about five per class, it was not a lot of work for me.  
   My top three favorite theories from the POEsters were:
  1. Rabies
  2. Cooping
  3. Brain Tumor (see the paper "The Gutter")
   I did assign the class to write their own argument essays after this "project" concluded and I am grading them this weekend.  So far, I am very happy with what I am reading.  I think all of the group work, discussions, presentations, feedback, and reflections have really helped them to write a much better paper on their own; much more so than if I had just assigned a writing prompt to begin with.


  1. I would love to get the details on this if you didn't mind sharing.

    Mrs. Rauser

  2. I would love to get the details on this if you didn't mind sharing.

    Mrs. Rauser

  3. Sorry I didn't see this sooner. I dont use this blog very often anymore. I have a new space for blogging: Here is a link to my document on this though have the kids go to file, make a copy and they can be working on the pages in their own google drive if they have that.