What to do When Genius Hour Sucks

I’ve been doing Genius Hour for several years with my gifted and talented students in 3rd-5th grades.  Yet, every year I end up thinking that I could have facilitated it better. Because I want to keep improving, I’ve documented some of my ups and downs on my Genius Hour Resources page.  It helps to look back at some of those posts and remind myself that Genius Hour doesn’t always go well and that I’ve come a long way from my first Genius Hour attempt – when my 5th graders rewarded me with blank stares after I announced they could study anything they wanted.

Yes, Genius Hour sucks sometimes.  There are some days I dread it because I know the chaos will drain all of my energy, or because I just can’t think of any other way to explain how to summarize research without copying, or because everyone will have a Genius-Hour-Emergency-that-only-Mrs. Eichholz-can-handle at exactly the same time, or because a student will refuse to believe me when I say that no one wants to read 1000 words in tiny text on a slide that is going to be read out loud anyway, or because I have to keep repeating, “Yes, I know you are passionate about meat [or other randomly chosen topic], but how will you convince your audience that they should care?”

Yep.

Exhausting.

So, I try to remind myself of all of the obstacles we’ve already overcome, that the students will become more independent if they are given more opportunities to practice being independent, and that we are all learning. A lot.

The other day I felt a bit defeated because I realized I was wrong when I thought I had figured the solution to getting more substance out of the presentations rather than fluff. A few students did practice presentations for a “focus group” of peers, and my heart sank when it became apparent that, once again, the fluff far outweighed the stuff.

During a break, I quickly Googled student Genius Hour presentation videos online to see if I could find an exemplar to give the students.  As I watched several videos, I realized that they also didn’t meet my expectations.

The logical conclusion?  My expectations are too high.  I was being too hard on these kids.  After all, what did I expect – a TED Talk?

Whew! What a relief.

I came home and started preparing my next blog post, looking up some articles I’ve bookmarked on Pocket.

How to Get the Best Work From Your Students,”  caught my eye.  I clicked on it.  And discovered the harsh truth.

I’m not done yet.

I have done a lot of what Eric White suggests.  I am creating rites of passage, critiquing the critiques, etc…  But this is where I need to dig in and keep going – not give up.  Yes, I have high expectations.  Yes, it may take several rewrites and rehearsals for the groups to meet my expectations.  After watching Eric’s video of the student who had revised several times, I see it is worth it.  The sense of pride she felt when she met those high expectations was visibly joyful.

So, if Genius Hour isn’t working for you, and you feel somehow guilty that you aren’t doing it right, you are not alone.  Maybe we are the only two teachers in the world having trouble with it, but at least you know there is someone else out there who questions its worth.  I can also tell you, though, that I’ve seen it work.  That’s why I keep trying and why I think you should, too.

UPDATE:  Here is a post I did after I kept trying!

I Don't Know What I'm Doing
image from: Duncan C on Flickr
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6 thoughts on “What to do When Genius Hour Sucks”

  1. I really appreciate this post. My frustration with open ended genius hour type projects has been similar! I keep thinking students will come up with off the charts creative change the world projects, but the usually set the bar for themselves pretty low. Glad to know I am not alone!

    1. Thanks, Karen! I think it’s important to share the ups and downs. This time is so valuable for them, but the end product does not always reflect the great learning they’ve done along the way!

  2. ByrdseedTV has a great lesson(s) on “how to give a great presentation” I know you know him so check it out. You might take away some helpful hints.

    1. I am definitely a fan of Ian Byrd, and have shared some of his presentation tips with the students. There is also a slide show called, “What Would Steve Jobs Do?” that we’ve watched. Sometimes they still want to go back to what’s familiar, though!

  3. I think this is an important post. Often times teachers will just give up on a new strategy if it doesn’t work. I think it’s great that you are reflecting and tweaking and trying again. I just interviewed at a school where the teachers do Genius Hour religiously–I may need to tap your experience. 🙂

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