May 16, 2022
Design Notebook

Week #7: Design Challenge

One thing I tried: In our summer PL training we did a design challenge, and I loved the idea because it’s hands-on exploratory learning that forces you to find and learn what you need in order to complete a task. In week 7 of English III we were at the point of wrapping up Unit 2–they had finished their writing task and were tracking down their books (a significant logistical hurdle) for Unit 3. I decided to add a small buffer week that allowed for a collaborative rhetoric challenge. Since it’s also homecoming week I think this was a good call. Our rough unit 2 (Friday night lights: the culture of high school sports) timeline:

  • Week 1: reading and writing time (we worked on key rhetoric concepts)
  • Week 2: wrapped up readings and did our Seminar
  • Week 3: wrapped up writing and did some unit 3 planning
  • Week 4: Design challenge

This is the context and task for the design challenge:

Context: The NFL has had its ethos challenged in recent years in a variety of ways: the challenge of concussions and CTEdomestic violence and players’ personal problems, and the issue of players kneeling during the national anthem. Likewise, the NCAA has faced challenges related to the corrupting influence of moneyacademic scandals, and accusations that the business of sports has overtaken the academic mission of the affiliated institutions.
Design challenge: Build a 10-second ad that works to repair the ethos of either the NFL or the NCAA with a wide range of viewers by linking them to an important cause using a specific spokesperson. Imagine the ad begin viewed on phones.

Over the course of the week we worked through the design steps from the Stanford Design School that we learned in the summer:

Stanford Design School model
  • Empathize: Students had to learn about the organization they chose (NFL or NCAA), the audience who would have been affected by the negative news, and how cause marketing works. I love this because it translates so well to our argument unit: you have to know your audience and put yourself in their shoes to be effective at persuasion.
  • Define: Students had to identify their audience, spokesperson, and cause. This is where the most interesting discussions occurred and really became the heart of the task. It was hard for them to think about how the spokesperson and cause can add ethos with a specific audience. For example, one group wanted to think about how the handling of domestic abuse allegations had damaged the NFL. It took some time for them to define the audience that had their ethos damaged (suburban moms, the #metoo movement, families). Then the group decided that the NFL could advocate for foster care as a way to defend the defenseless to combat the image that they are indifferent. Finally, they decided that Tiffany Haddish and her experiences in foster care could connect the NFL’s cause and the intended audience. I thought it was a clever solution. Another group proposed for every photo fans used with the hashtag #NFLforVets that the NFL would donate to Wounded Warriors. It was during these discussions that I could tell whether or not a group “got” ethos and the demands of the rhetorical situation.
  • Ideate: Students designed their 10-second ad. They had to make rhetorical choices about image, text, sound, music, voiceovers, etc. and determine which technology solutions would enable those choices.
  • Prototype: Students filmed or used digital tools to create and edit their ads.
  • Test: We watched them and did a semi-structured feedback session for each. Sessions were lively as we debated the merits of various spokespeople and whether or not the causes would fix the damaged ethos. Here is the one from my sixth bell that I described above (Tiffany Haddish):
What I liked/didn’t like: I really like how the Design model lines up with the writing process. Students tend to start writing with the question “what do I want to say?” Design thinking reframes it to “what do I need to say for this audience?” It’s a small shift that makes their writing instantly more purposeful. I also like the way this brings the rhetorical situation (Aristotle’s triangle) and the rhetorical appeals to life. Students had to defend their rhetorical choices and did good analysis of other teams’ choices in the feedback session. The conversation was really rich.

What’s next: We are beginning unit 3 next week. Students have generated the topic (the culture of violence in America), the essential questions, and chosen a book to read.

Featured Photo Credit: Med Badr Chemmaoui

Nathan Coates

Nathan Coates is an English/Language Arts Teacher at Wm. Mason High School. This article is cross-posted with Mr. Coates' personal reflection blog. You can view his blog here. Twitter: @MHSCoates

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