I still have days when a sub is merely a warm body. I still assume that it's a day off from the explicit teaching of new concepts. However, I have grown to believe that the day off should be something fun, meaningful and creative rather than mindless and trivial. In other words, it's closer to a vacation a journey and further from a waiting room.
This has approach has a few advantages. For one, if the assignment is meaningful, students don't need a teacher to guide any instruction. It is essentially a chance for students to learn in a way that I always wish they could learn: with choice, creativity, autonomy and personalization. Students are more likely to be engaged and the substitute teachers simply monitor the progress of students rather than making threats to get students to finish boring work.
In addition, the assignments don't require photocopying and updating. This is especially helpful in the event that students are split between multiple classes. If a student receives a double-sided paper, it's a pretty quick and portable alternative to finding textbooks or stapling new packets.
Here are a few examples of what students might do:
- Create an animal that doesn't exist. It might help to draw a picture. Describe how it adapted to its environment, why it might become endangered and how it would change if it were domesticated.
- This I Believe: Think of a belief you hold. It might be an idea, a life lesson or an issue you care about. Explain why you believe what you believe. Alternative: create a life philosophy including your lists of beliefs organized into categories (you could do a web if you wanted to instead)
- A muggle (non-wizard) raised by wizards shows up to your school. Write the directions for a non-magical task that he will find confusing.
- Create a utopia and then describe how that utopia became a dystopia. How did the great ideas go wrong? What does that say about humanity?
- Write a Letter: You can write a letter to technology, a thank you letter to someone who influenced you, a letter to a politician advocating change, a fictional character that you wish was alive.
- Describe an elective class our school should offer. Create the course syllabus, including what is taught and how.
- Urban Legends: Think of an urban legend and describe how you would test it Myth Buster style. You can make diagrams or simply write it as a text.
- Come up with at least thirty unconventional uses for mittens.
- Papa Smurf has died and the Smurfs have replaced his authoritarian regime with a democracy. Describe the new government they create. Include potential threats from the outside and the inside. Which Smurf would be a popular, but weak, leader? Which Smurf might have great ideas but end up alienate others? Which Smurf might arise as a dictator? Ultimately, what happens to them? (This might be an interesting comic book, short story, persuasive essay, Smurf political propaganda poster or choose-your-own-adventure book)
- Insert yourself in one of your favorite novels. Rewrite a scene from the perspective of someone who knows what happens in the end.
- Create your own word problem for a mathematical concept that most people think is irrelevant. Your word problem needs to be realistic. Now create a word problem that exists in a fantasy world.
- Invent an item of technology you think might exist ten years from now. Include any diagrams that are necessary.
- Write a children's story where the villain is vegetarian and the protagonist is a vegetable. Here's the catch: it must have a happy ending.
- Explain the meaning of life using only visuals.
- Write a letter or create a comic book where the main character paints a mural all over a house only to find that the very scene he or she painted has come to life. When the story is finished, describe which genre you chose (such as a tragedy, a comedy, an epic, a drama, etc.) and why.
- Read a book. Yep, you don't have to write a report or take notes or any of that. Just immerse yourself in that book until you are lost completely in that dark, cavernous place called the mind.
I change the options up, but I always end with sixteen. It is Joe Montana's number after all. I ask students to develop the criteria, the format and the rubric for assessment (I tell them it can be as simple as a check-mark list and as complicated as multi-box rubric). I also tell students that can do as few as one (going really in-depth) or many.
Any thoughts on items I could add to my sixteen?