Today was the second day of one of my crazy ideas. During my first year teaching English, I feel like I’ve thrown a lot of stuff against the wall to see what would stick. Thankfully some of it does.
Students are reading Red Scarf Girl, a book with lots of characters. It was clear that some of them were having difficulty keeping track of the characters and following the threads of the story. For a previous book, I had asked the students to make Ink Flash cards for characters. It was boring (both in my assessment and theirs), and the program ate (didn’t save properly) a number of students’ cards. I decided to try something different this time.
On Friday, we brainstormed a list of all the things it might be useful to know about the characters. We narrowed the list to: name, relationships/connections to other characters, important actions, and representative quote (either from or about the character). Students then suggested ways their groups might represent this information, everything from writing on the wall in Sharpie markers to carving foam statutes to painting on giant trash bags. (Sixth graders make me laugh.) They also came up with some more traditional ideas like wiki, glog, poster board, and PowerPoint. I split students into groups and let them choose their method of presentation. I reminded them not to do anything to get themselves suspended or me fired and told them they had to work with the materials in the room.
Students broke into groups, and I held my breath. Many decided to use PowerPoint, but some chose Glogster and others wanted to use poster board. Students made family trees in OneNote and used Audacity to record sound to embed. It was hard to believe that these were some of the same students who had difficulty logging onto their tablets in August. At the end of the first day, one student said, “This was fun and less chaotic than I thought it would be.”
My favorite part of the activity was the fights. Students were impassioned about everything from which picture of Mao to use to whether a particular character should be represented as for or against the Cultural Revolution. At one point, a student was advocating that I be brought in to arbitrate. Another student said, “She’s just going to tell you to point to evidence from the book, so don’t waste her time.”
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. I had to wrangle in a group of girls who got a little overzealous with the butcher paper and redirect a few groups who weren’t as focused as they should be. In general, though, everyone was remarkably engaged, especially at this point in the year.
One group of gentlemen decided to create a glog. They’re good-natured students, but they’ve also made it clear throughout the year that English is not their favorite subject. They were incredibly focused both days and were very excited to show me their glog. One said, “This is the best project I have ever made.” Yeah, that’s good stuff.