Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Minga", Japanese peers, and collaborative work, oh my!

This year, during our annual ArtLink Connection, the theme centered around the idea of "minga". Minga is a Quechua word in Ecuador, dating back to the Incas. Minga is collaborative work in which friends and neighbors volunteer their time, effort, and sometimes money to achieve a shared goal for the betterment of the community (for example, building a home, harvesting food or repairing roads). 

Rather than simply create individual art pieces, students worked in Project-Based Learning style, with one week to complete 4 outcomes, for the benefit of an authentic audience of peers in Hiroshima, Japan. 

Students were tasked with the following:

1. Write an informative essay (2-3 paragraphs) describing the minga of your choice, and its political, economic, and social causes and impacts.
2. A thoughtfully created piece of artwork depicting the minga you researched. 
3. A 1-minute video describing your artwork. 
4. Complete an artist description sheet with biographical information and descriptions about
the art piece.

The rub was that since the theme was collaborative work and efforts, my students had to complete their tasks as small groups! It was an ideal project for working together, for navigating organizational and logistical challenges together, and for preparing outcomes for an authentic audience--peers in Hiroshima, Japan. Our artwork is already on its way across the Pacific!
We started on day one by assessing how they felt about working in groups, using stickers placed on this simple chart. Then the project was explained, the outline was handed out, the details detailed.

Alas, can I just say that day one was a disaster? Students were placed in mixed ability groups, and had 4 items on Monday's checklist to complete. Many did not want to take the time to go through their notes to see what they needed to do, and it was as if they'd never done independent work before. They needed guidance each step of the way. 

At the start of day two, students assessed themselves again using the 1-4 rubric on the chart, using stickers. As you can see, a couple of students were honest enough to admit that, ahem, they had more work they could do. Only one student rated himself as a 4.  

By day two, students seemed to understand the outline and checklist provided for them a little better, that it was ok to believe the teacher created it to actually guide them more efficiently to do their work. However, about half were fully engaged without consistent redirection and reminders. 

By the end of the week, the tasks were complete, except for a couple of pieces of the 4 outcomes. Quality was across the board, so there was a big discussion of dignity and pride for one's work, along with some revision requirements. I know it was new for them, and it was a rigorous set of expectations and outcomes, especially for newcomers, but we had to try it. And I learned more about groupwork than they did, which is good since we'll certainly be trying it again and evaluating our own progress. 

Overall, I admit the positive aspects equalled the negative. I know I have to keep hammering away at the idea of "independently" determining next steps. (and I say that in quotes, since they had a checklist for each day, outcomes listed, multiple explanations, and group members to rely upon when they wondered what was next). It was disheartening to see students finish one step and honestly tell me they were done.  They even showed me the checklist with one step checked, and nothing else---yet, they considered their work complete.  Sigh. 

I learned I have to push through my frustrations, armed with the belief that this idea of determining the next step and planning / organizing multiple elements is critical and completely worth the time it takes for them to get it. That's not to say no one figured it out. There are enough planners, organizers, and thinkers in the class to compensate for those who struggled, but the ones who struggled also struggle to care. And that's hard.

Although I spent the weekend considering what other profession I could do, after the hard slog of this project,  I'm proud of what they eventually turned out. And although it was an "art" project, it is so much more. It's a way of integrating culture, metacognition, and organization into their research, and art just happens to be the manifestation of their learning, as well as the impetus. Details equated to evidence supporting the main idea, so the research had to be thorough! Because this is a class of language learners, it's imperative to incorporate all domains as often as possible, too, so it couldn't be a single-dimension, silent activity. That's why we included research (reading),  a 1-minute video (speaking), LOTS of writing--the research paper and script for the video, and listening in small groups and whole class.  Pictures are below, plus one video sample with the art description. When students know they are going to be recorded, it truly helps to motivate them!

Let me know what else I could have added to make this better.  If you're interested in the checklist or standards attached to the lesson, please contact me and I'll send those, too. 

video
Once students completed their artwork, they created
videos to explain their art, and any details they wished
to add. Each group member contributed to the video.


Day one of research
Helping each other with research and finding sites
Working together with art and research 

Looks promising! 
Collaborating and comparing notes 
Love seeing high school students working on a single piece of
artwork together!
Going to peers for help and  questions
Seeking image ideas and more information





Examples of their artwork:
Students discovered groups who work toward alleviating poverty, building houses, 
empowering women, and community volunteers who help build the local church. 
Other groups thought NASA exemplified group work and collaboration, and although 
not "volunteer", they are certainly right about the extensive partnerships. 
You can see an Amish barn, representing an Amish barn-raising, and a funeral procession 
that has been taken care of at various stages by volunteers in the community. 
Two other groups focused on how communities come together to help those without 
enough food, and lastly, the US Army. Interestingly enough, the last picture demonstrates
the aid aspect of the military, and how they help communities during war, after war, and provide much-needed resources. 























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