Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What Matters?

We’ve spent a lot of time at my school – both in my staff development efforts and outside of them – talking about what’s essential for students to learn. As part of this, several teachers are thinking hard about asking the "big questions" in their classes as a way of focusing students on the "essential learnings."

Anne Smith has focused her first semester English 9 course (9th grade English, 14 and 15-year-olds for those of you outside the U.S.) around the question of “What Matters?
Last year, I had my freshmen all focus on the question of what matters. I was really glad to have one question on which they could focus all semester. Every project, assignment, class discussion all came back to this question.

. . . The first part of the What Matters project is a creative, visual illustration of what matters to them. They always seem to struggle with this question at first, asking me, "Well what do you mean what matters?" I simply respond with, "I don't know, what matters?" They, of course, are confused and perplexed. This year after going through the same conversation with them as my last year's 9th graders, I decided to create my own example of what matters. I think this gave them some better direction, but I still have my reservations. Many of their posts seemed similar to mine (I am not trying to be egocentric here). I am just having a difficult time trying to find the line between feeling like I am leading them to the answer I am looking for (i.e. my what matters example) and having them struggle to find their own understanding- what I feel like they should be looking for.
You can read Anne’s own “What Matters?” post, as well as read through many of the students’ posts on her class blog (you may have to scroll down a little to see their posts as newer posts are on top). As always, comments and constructive criticism on the students’ posts are welcome.

On a technical note (because I often get asked when I link to work like this so I might as well answer it up front), Anne and the students used Picasa (another piece of the G.A.) to create their photo collages.


  1. What matters? Well,I went to Plan B in 21C this morning and will use this post to link them to Free is Good. I'll come back to your post later, Karl.

    Here is Frank Miracola's Free is Good document.

  2. Soooo true. "What matters? How does it matter to me? And even how is this going to help me in my life NOW?" are the questions that kids and audience cares about.

    I also wonder if this could serve a second purpose of helping students create their own filters for "what matters."

    I just read a little of Ken Bain the Director for the Center for Teaching NYU. He talked about thinking about the assumptions and models that he needed/wanted to challenge as the one of the launch pads for his teaching. Golden!

    Great post! And nice video too!

  3. "What Matters?' adapted for elementary students - Students chose "Treasures" as the title of their third season of podcasts and after a guided discussion decided to focus podcasts on "what matters" at our elementary school. Here's their first podcast of the year:

    I read the blog post the day before meeting with students to discuss the podcasts. Suggested the idea on the fly and was amazed how quickly they started discussing among themselves and moving forward with it.