3 is a Magic Number-The Enchanting Power of Tri-BOBs


3 is a magic number. Jack Johnson sang about it. It was the name of the pilot episode of Schoolhouse Rock. Pythagoreans asserted that is was the first true number. Throughout the bible, three is a recurring number. It's the number of wishes in fairy tales and the number of primary colours. Three is also the number for marking time: past-present-future, birth-life-death, beginning-middle-end. The number 3 appears in many places for many different reasons. It is a significant number in my personal life as my husband and I are raising our three incredible daughters. Three is also an important number in the Building Outside the Blocks approach.

BOBs, as I refer to the related personalizing projects, have three key aspects. They really help students build learning skills, develop autonomy and enhance class community. BOBs are projects that are introduced in class, worked on as “home” work in view of an individual learner’s self-selected presentation date and presented in class over time to an active audience. Everyone of the projects that I have created thus far were developed to engage learners and help them use their lives and interests as ways into learning content and transferable skills. They also really help students find and use their voices. I have created BOBs for a variety of subject areas and to achieve many different goals.

BOBs come in One-Off and Tri-BOB forms. Both forms of BOB projects can be presented over a short or a long period of time. Regardless of the presentation cycle, a teacher can employ several One-Off BOBs over a school year or a few One-Offs and a Tri-BOB.

A Tri-BOB is a series of three BOBs that connect to and build on each other. Each revisit shares similar aspects, but a new dimension is added each time, so that skills can be built upon and deepened over time. When students complete this trilogy, the story of their learning is rich and, according to my students from a variety of grade levels, pretty amazing.

In education, three is number reflective of assessment for, as and of learning. The first in the Tri-BOB can be diagnostic, seeing where a student begins and planning for improvement on their individual learning continuum. Most BOBs are formative in nature, providing next steps through feedback from the active class audience after presentations, teacher feedback through rubrics, checklists and anecdotes, and student reflections that own their areas for improvement. The third iteration of a Tri-BOB can be a summative evaluation. With a Tri-BOB, students have the time and space to process, develop and really improve learning skills such as communication, critical thinking, organization and independent work habits. Here are some examples of Tri-BOBs, how they build over time and how my students have responded to them.

Master Storyteller is a Tri-BOB with the goal of enabling a student to write and tell a story. It begins with a student reading a picture book to their class. Often, it is one of their favourites, one their parents used to read to them when they were little (littler), or just something fun to read. As their teacher, when students present their MST 1 on their selected date, I can hear fluency, gauge preparedness, and assess presentation style in verbal and non-verbal ways. This is how I learn where the student begins. MST 1 is usually introduced at the beginning of the second month of school and culminates in the third month of school. By November, I have begun to explicitly teach writing skills. After the first cycle of MST’s, the next phase is introduced.

Master Storyteller 2 is about telling a story with visuals. We view a lot of different storytelling techniques and technologies. The project is assigned in early December, after a lot of modelling, and students begin working at home in view of their selected deadlines that spans from February through March. They have also been taught about eye contact, body language, enunciation and projecting their voices. MST2 is the next iteration, and it a place to show growth based on feedback and refection from MST 1.

By the second revisit, skills are improving and autonomy is enhanced. Some children have reflected on their presentation date selection from the first MST and made a different choice this time. They are beginning to learn how they learn best and how to set themselves up for success. I have seen many students feel more confident to have earlier presentation dates, knowing they no longer require as many examples before they feel ready to share. At this stage, kids really begin to experiment with different storytelling tools which are as varied as the students. Some go to tech looking at platforms for digital storytelling, stop motion animation, iMovie and more. Others will build sets, make models, use or create puppets, dress in costumes and more. The possibilities are endless, and the students explore so many aspects of themselves in making their choices. This naturally differentiating project ignites a self inquiry and a playful approach to learning. It also allows me to support individual learners in view of their next steps and selected presentation date.

Master Storyteller 3 is a culmination of a year of skill building. After being given the chance to improve reading and presentation skills using visuals, student have also been given many months to develop their writing skills. They have been taught the 6 Plus 1 Writing Traits: Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency. The +1 trait is the presentation style, itself. MST 3 is when students tell their own original stories with visuals. Some of the students choose are personal narratives, some select fictional stories from their writing folders that they are editing and revising and some begin from the the launch of the MST 3.

Each presentation in whatever format the student chooses allow them one more time to try a new medium and show growth. Some students liked the technology that they learned about in class or through other students’ previous MST presentations and want to try it themselves. Others try something else entirely. Every student has had the time and feedback to improve, so their evaluations are reflective of a process because that is what deep learning requires. The MST3 is a culmination of the learning skills developed over the entire school year, and it is a celebration of the success of each student on their own continuum.

I have developed a lot of different Tri-BOBs. There is the PS series which explores the self. It begins with a Portrait of yourSelf (PS1), evolves to the Personal Soundtrack (PS2, which formed the basis of my Personal Playlist Podcast) and concludes with Photo Synthesis (PS3), which is a combination of self exploration and media literacy skills relating to photographs. There is POETS 1 where students read a poem, POETS 2 where they present an analysis of a poem and POETS 3 where students present their own original poem and explain their choice of literary devices and tools. There is also the Did You Know Series that I created for Science. Last year, I created by first triad of Tri-BOBs- three related Tri-BOBs that built over each grade in middle school.

I presented at The Global Education Conference on this trifecta in November. I titled it More That Current Events- A Globally Connected Triad of Tri-BOBs. For each year of middle school, the students experienced a Tri-BOB to help them develop specific skills. What propelled me to view these projects not just over a school year but over the three years of middle school was my vantage point when I was assigned the role of Social Studies/History/Geography teacher for a course titled Individuals and Societies for the entire Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate. It gave me perspective that allowed me to connect the students to their learning over all three years, MYP 1, 2 and 3. It was the most longitudinal view I had to date. With the UN's Sustainable Development Goals in mind, I evolved the projects to become more mindful of how global connections could deepen over time, too. The projects are called What’s News, What’s Up and News n’Schmooze.

The What’s News is an introduction to the news. It allows students to explore what makes something news, the role of headlines, and the text features of an article. It evolves to What's News 2, incorporating summarizing and annotating skills to help close read informational texts. What’s News 3 is a presentation of a news story with a visual. This lets learners dip their toes in current events, reading news and thinking about what makes something newsworthy.

What’s Up takes it from there. It begins with sharing a news article with a visual, but this time you have to justify your choice. It is accompanied by annotations and a summarized news story. The students are taught to notice bias and ask question beyond the text, which is what they present for What's Up 2. During the school year, every Friday, my class analyzes a a photograph through Friday Photo, so they learn how to look deeper into the images that accompany news articles and improve their critical thinking skills. As a result, for What's Up 3, students present a photograph that they have selected purposefully to tell a story and a perspective in an analytical way after comparing and contrasting at least two news articles on the same subject/event. They critically determine an image that best tells the story of the issue and/or the bias(es), and lead the class in the decoding of the text. Critical thinking skills are taught in class but they are really developed over the course of this Tri-BOB.

News n’Schmooze takes news analysis to a collaborative forum with individual accountability. Students are given groups based on their interest in a news story, world issue or event. They have to research the issue independently and, on the day of their "schmooze", they contribute to a conversation on the topic. The conversation is filmed and, after watching the video of their group’s schmooze, the students write the feedback on their speaking and listening skills, knowledge and understanding, research and thinking. After planning for next steps, they get another chance to collaborate on a news event in a more dramatic way.

For News, Schmooze and Tableaux, Too, the students collaborate to create 3-5 tableaus to tell the stories of the news event from beginning to middle to end (or at least the end they know at the time). Upon reflection, however, I would change that to revisit the first News n’Schmooze but have the students be grouped with students from other schools in the province. I think a global conversations necessitate more perspectives. New n'Schmooze ends with News Schmooze and Produce. While there is a lot of great media literacy learning to be had in creating a newscast, I continue to ponder the possibility of a third News’n Schmooze experience that could go from local to national to global classroom partnerships. That is one of my favourite parts of thinking in 3’s.

Tri-BOBs keep the entire school year in view, allowing teachers to think big while programming for the improvement of individual learners at the same time. They help to meet many different standards and curriculum expectations, but they surpass even the student’s expectations. As JK Rowling once said, “It’s important to remember that we all have magic inside of us.” For many students, the magic takes time. As author Sarah Dessen once wrote, "Sometimes, you get things right the first time. Others the second. But the third time, as they say, is a charm." That's why I am so compelled by the enchanting power of Tri-BOBs.


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