Friday, January 8, 2016

Note Card Confessions - Teaching with Emotion

"Mrs. Weber, I'm not sure I like this, it's making me all emotional and stuff."

Studies has shown multiple times, that people learn through emotion.  We may not remember every single day, but we remember the days where we experienced emotion.

Enter, note card confessions.  Note card confessions are a social media trend to bring attention to a story that needs to be told.  They tend to be very powerful and emotional.  I first got the idea to use note card confessions in class here.  (I get a lot of good ideas from this site!)

A note card confession style video was the perfect way for my 7th grade classes to complete our unit on the Homestead Act.  I have a series of letters that were written by a woman named Mary Chaffee Abell.  Mary lived with her husband, Robert, and their children on a homestead in Western Kansas.  Mary wrote about her life and the experiences her family went through while surviving on the dramatic Kansas plains.  Every year we look at these letters my students walk away feeling the sadness that Mary pours into her letters. I wanted the note card confessions to take that to the next level by requiring that the students take on the "persona" of either Mary or her husband Robert.  The students would have to "step into the shoes" of the character.  The results were powerful.

An example of Robert's story created by 7th grader, Mason S.

An example of Mary's story created by 7th grader, Bailey B.

How did the students create these videos?

I used this blog post to guide much of the requirements.  If you want to attempt one of these with your students, I highly recommend reading it in entirety!  Here are the basic requirements for the note cards I gave my students.
  1. Must have at least 20 note cards
  2. 5 note card introduction of who you and where you are
  3. No more than 8 words per card
  4. No spelling mistakes
  5. Words written clearly with one dark colored marker. Do not switch colors.
  6. The audience must clearly understand the life of a homesteader in Western Kansas.
  7. Words should be powerful and include sensory details.  At least 5 examples of sensory details. (Piggy-backed off of the Language Arts class who had just been studying about words that used sensory details.)
  8. Do not distract the reader with sarcasm or something silly
  9. This is to be emotional and powerful.

Then I also had a set of requirements for the technology piece:
  1. You will edit your video to make it black and white.
  2. Add a title and end credits.
  3. This will be put together in iMovie (our students all have iPads).
  4. Add music that will fit the theme of your video.  There should be no words in the song and the artist and title of song will be credited at the end of the video.  -- This is HUGE.  The right music helps set the tone for the video.  I had many students not really realize the true emotional value of this assignment until seeing the finished product with the music.

What went well?
  • The students LOVED this project!  
  • Over and over I heard kids mention how this was hard to start because it was such a different concept to them, but once they got going and figured it out, it was fun.  This is exactly what I wanted.  Something that would challenge them to think differently, and at the same time be possible for them to figure out on their own.
  • The emotional connection to Mary's story was awesome!
  • Each student walks away with their own project to showcase to parents at our student lead conferences in March.
  • The majority of this project was student centered.  A great example of this happened on the day we were recording the note cards.  I was late to my last class of the day because of a meeting and my principal covered the start of class.  All she said was "you guys know what to do, right?" and they took off!  I was sure to tell the students how impressed she was with the way they were able to just get to work without the teacher directing their only move.  I had very little questions about "What do I do?" and only had to help specific technology issues.  It was AMAZING to see the independence and collaboration that occurred. 
  • This inspired some students to create their own personal note card confessions!

What would I do differently?
  • Set a limit to the number of cards.  I required at least 20 note cards, but never set a limit.  I had some students who had over 100 cards.  WAY TOO MANY!   
  • Next year I will only allow two direct quotes from the letters.  I had some kids who just tried to copy the letter word-for-word.  
  • Depending on the time available for this project and student need, I can group kids together and make this a team presentation instead of individual, however, the individual method is preferred.
This project not only provided a way for students to experience empathy, show creativity, think critically and collaborate with others it also provided an emotional piece for them to showcase to their parents at our Spring Student-Led Conferences this spring!  In reflecting about this project, students mentioned that it was a much better way to learn about the Homestead Act and what life was like than just reading it and taking a test.