“I know it when I see it”
Truly transformative learning is easy to spot. You see it when a student comes up to you after a long break and tells you that they went ahead and finished the project ahead of time, and so they want to know what they should do in class since they are done. Or it’s when not just the parents but the uncle and sister come in to watch the presentation.
In my project, what would a true transformation look like? Students would be excited to post on their blog and would look forward to reading the thoughts of their classmates. Their parents would be reading the blog and emailing me with questions and comments about the project. Other teachers would find out about the project from the students and ask me how to replicate it in their PCGs.
But aside from these sorts of obvious cues, how will I know that the unit has been a success? Most of the research I reviewed relied upon surveys to gather their data, so I can formally evaluate the unit by using a questionnaire as a pre and post test. I could adapt the survey and terminology used by Larson, and see if there is any change in how students allocate their free time from the beginning of the unit to the end. Using similar terminology would also allow me to compare my student population to those in the research. If I wanted to truly get some idea of how my students compared I would also need to administer the same survey to all of my students so that I am not limited to such a small data set (only ten students in my PCG). Giving the same survey to all of my students, not just the ones that will be completing the unit, also provides me with a control group.
However most of the authors are unsure of the causal links. When I contacted Dr Lisa D’Amour about this, she told me that there is “stunningly little research on stress and well-being in teens”. Expanding on that, Larson’s eloquent conclusion bears repeating:
Given our limited state of knowledge and the loose relationship between how time is spent and what youths actually experience, overemphasis on time allocation is certain to mislead. It also overlooks individual and cultural differences in learning processes and developmental goals. Human development is not a board game that can be won by having one’s pieces spend the most time on selected squares. (p. 163)
Given the tenuous link between time allocation and development, I need to rely heavily on informal assessments and evaluations. I will have interviews with small groups of students in between the activities. This will help me to ascertain what elements of the unit are the most engaging and to uncover student misunderstandings.