Secondary Smörgasbord: Keeping It Fresh With RAFTs

"Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party!'"  That's a great quote from Robin Williams, and I couldn't agree more.  For those of us in Colorado, it's the time of year when we all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as we finally lay to rest the state assessment for another year.

Yes, April is a welcome guest with her daffodils, tulips and crocuses blooming, brightening up everyone's mood, signaling a fresh awakening.

To me, keeping things fresh means giving choices, and the way I do that is by using RAFTs to apply what they've learned. It's one of the easiest ways I know to differentiate for students.

I was told RAFT has a different meaning in different parts of the country (world?). To clarify, my version of RAFT means Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. I like using them as culminating activities to assess understanding, and I love them because they give students a choice.

One of my favorite RAFTs is for the book, Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz. It's one of those stories that easily captures everyone's attention, making it a good read-aloud. When it's over, they always want me to read the next one to them.  But I never do.  Get them hooked and turn them loose- it's like catch-release when you're fishing.

If you're not familiar with the story, Stormbreaker is an action-packed adventure of 14-year-old Alex Rider, who finds out his uncle is dead in the first two pages.  Turns out his uncle wasn't really a banker, but an agent for MI-6. Alex is persuaded to help MI-6 catch the guy who was responsible for the dastardly deed.

Discussions are always lively. With so many different points of view in the story and interest from the kids, this book screamed to be made into a RAFT. By playing into their discussions and enthusiasm, Stormbreaker RAFT was created. Students got to choose from helping design additional "tools" Alex could use on another adventure, or writing about the climax from the perspective of a news reporter in the audience, or having the bad guy write a letter to Dear Abby because he's so misunderstood, as well as two other fun choices.

I am always impressed with their creativity, regardless of which role they choose.

Animal RAFT is a Project-based Learning Unit and another example of how I use a RAFT to assess student understanding.  In this case, the RAFT is a culmination of our huge Outdoor Lab Ecosystem study, focusing on the relationship of animals and their environment in the Colorado Montane Life Zone.

In this RAFT, students use their animal research to fulfill one of the roles. (To find out more about this unit, click here.) Because I don't pretend to have all the great ideas, I will frequently include an open choice where they can pick their own format and topic, as I did in this RAFT. I call it, "Hey, Teacher, I've got an idea!" This works well for those creative, outside-the-box thinkers. 

When it comes down to it, keeping things fresh is a daily mantra for me.  I can't imagine what it would be like if I did the same thing the same way day after day, month after month, year after year.  Yes, there are things we are required to do, but our own creativity is what keeps them fresh.

I'm curious to know if you've ever used RAFTs in your classroom and how they worked for you.  Let me know in the comments.


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