Like all the best assignments, it begins with rich essential questions. Context will be set, schemas will be exposed, and the slow but steady path to learning, knowledge, empathy, and growth will sprout. Banners of the questions will border the classroom, thereby making thinking unavoidable.
What follows is a careful reading of a novel. A clear and delineated reading log is part of the process for the students. They will read independently and in small groups; they will hear read-alouds and they will even get some directed-reading activities to hammer home comprehension, prediction, and analysis. Post-its will be provided, free of charge.
Quizzes will be given intermittently during the reading. Vocabulary, drawn from the novel, will be studied, synonymed and antonymed. And not a Scantron anywhere! Remember, we’re not teaching them to fill in circles.
Primary sources? Most definitely! Students will read documents direct from the time-period in which the novel was written. Letters, written by the author during his service in some glorious military endeavor, will be studied. Students will examine them for clues that indicate the slow development of his now timeless novel. A grandfather will come in on Friday and speak to the class. He won’t show you his scar.
Nobody wins an award for any of that. Standard stuff, right? But this assignment, the one brewing in my head, is just about ready for the stratosphere. Look-ee, look-ee:
So now the students are ‘getting it’. They’re only half-way through the text and they’re talking about the novel. They’re even asking questions of their own creation. They’ve abandoned the Post-Its and have noted-up the margins. There will be no discipline slips for these infractions. The desire to learn is far more important.
And then, I hit ‘em with the zinger! I’m taking this project to the next level. Oh, yeah, it’s going 2.0 (two point oh). If this assignment is going to work, they must do more than communicate, investigate, and appreciate; they need to collaborate. But those markers and packets of construction paper are defunct remnants of an ill-conceived educational past and they won’t work. But blogging will work.
Now, this isn’t just ‘get in the gate’ and go sort of blogging. It’s important that you realize that they’ve been reading blogs all semester. They all have accounts at Bloglines. These are Twenty First Century citizens through and through. Most subscriptions are blocked by the school filter.
The novel comes alive as students post as if they are the characters. Suzie is no longer a tired adolescent; through the power of blogging she’s been transmogrified into the tired protagonist from the novel. She posts and she comments. She inserts a ClustrMap. A Tibetan is reading.
In class, someone’s post is glowing with the power of a Hewlett-Packard projection system behind it. We re-read posts. We discuss the comments. I ask clarifying questions. We even use student posts to work on the conventions of the writing process. Students work independently and in teams. We edit and revise. There’s a mini-lesson on the comma. Bathroom requests increase.
The blogs are working…better than expected. Suddenly, students are posting on their own and comments are soaring. Suzie comes to my class before homeroom. She tells me her post from the other day now has thirteen comments. The Tibetan commends her interpretation.
At one point, we even Skyped another school.
I ask the students for permission to share their blogs with teachers in our building who may not be aware of the work they have done. They are happy to oblige. Tibetans are reading, surely the faculty will appreciate the work.
Email out, hyperlinks included.
Emails in, lesson concluded:
“Too much time.”One day, when this assignment wins Best Project Ever, I’ll thank a handful of avatars who made me believe that teaching is more than just quantity, more than just testing, and more than just commas. It’s about something you use with care, something you use deliberately, and it’s about something you use with an awareness of student advancement.
“No way you get through the entire curriculum if you do all that.”
“There is such a dearth of writing skills that an assignment like this is more than time-consuming, it’s a reinforcement of all that is wrong with student writing.”
“They could have just as easily written a paper.”
“Tell me how blogging helps with our State Assessments and maybe they’ll be a reason to abandon real teaching.”
It’s about time.