Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week #2- Artistry & Collaboration

Week 2 Break Down:

1. Narrative Terms & Literary Devices
2. Collaborative Google Docs
3. Socrative Space Race
4. Seniors vs Freshmen

"Bouquet of Sunflowers" by Claude Monet
Oil on Canvas, 1881
"Flower"by Katherine Baker,
Microsoft Paint, 2012
With the freshmen, I start the year off working with Narrative Terms and showing how an author can add artistry to writing. This is akin to at home finger painting versus museum quality artwork: I can fingerpaint a picture of a flower,  but an artist can enhance the picture of the flower by using artistic techniques-- brushstrokes, type of paint, shading, etc. Both are artistic in their own sense, but I doubt you'll see my fingerpainting hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Likewise in writing, a person can write a simple sentence about a flower, but an author can add depth and meaning by using literary devices.

The flower bloomed in the spring. -K. Baker

Like the lily,That once was mistress of the field and flourish'd, I'll hang my head and perish. - William Shakespeare, Henry VIII (3.1.168-70)

There is the use of consonance of the "L, "S" and "D" sounds, alliteration of the "F" and "H" sounds, as well as the use of meter and simile in Shakespeare's sentence. I may be a decent English teacher, but I am certainly not published like Shakespeare! 

So this is what my freshmen students did one day this week. We read the short story, "Priscilla and the Wimps" by Richard Peck and then used a collaborative Google Doc to mark up the text as a class. After identifying the literary devices in the text, students were then directed to another Googe Doc for collaboratively answering analysis questions and writing a group paragraph response. The focus with this activity is on the PROCESS. I wanted to "formatively" assess their understanding and ability to collaborate. I was not expecting students to be able to give me a final product in one class period.

Since I am not a 1:1 district, I had to sign out the computer lab and since many students use technology for entertainment purposes, this was their first exposure to Google Docs and the collaborative process. At the conclusion of the activity, students were directed to a Google Form on which they relfected on the process.


  1. The students enjoyed working together, but the students did not like working together on such a large scale. Too many students on the same document made it lag and some students deleted/undid other students' submissions. I figured this would happen, but I wanted them to understand the process. I wanted them to make mistakes so that when I put them in small collaborative groups, they will make fewer mistakes and I will get a final finished product from the group.
  2. The students had some trouble applying their knowledge of the terms-- probably because they still needed to obtain the knowledge. They could pick out obvious narrative terms (simile, alliteration) but had trouble with irony and diction.
  3. While they could "search & locate" narrative terms and input their individual responses on the group questions, students struggled with writing collaboratively. They could not create a group paragraph answer in the time given. I didn't expect them to complete the paragraph, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to exceed my expectations.
The next day in class (Friday), we reviewed the collaborative document and went over some of the errors and missed terms. We discussed how an author can build a story around an allusion, in this case the Garden of Eden, and use narrative terms to enhance the story. I saw light bulbs going off when they made the connections! We also went over how to make the collaborative process easier.

To finish off the class period, the students used their personal devices to work in groups on a 5 minute Socrative Space Race.  Despite some hiccups with connecting to the wi-fi and getting the students acclimated, the race was a success: students were animated, on task, and used teamwork to finish the race. I'm also checking out Infuse Learning and Naiku's Quick Question to add to my arsenal of clicker-type activities using personal devices.

Where do we go from here?

We will continue to work on identifying and analyzing narrative terms/literary devices throughout the year. I'll be giving them a test on narrative terms at the end of this week, as well as a quiz on "Priscilla & the Wimps" to assess their knowledge and comprehension. In addition, we'll be doing more collaborative writing using a flipped and mastery approach. I will be assigning the same group questions again, but this time the groups will be student chosen and each group will receive their own GDoc to complete the writing task. 

A Little More on Flipped & Mastery Writing
The only way for the students to become better writers is to write, but I need them to be thinking about their writing while doing it, and I can't have them waiting for me to give them back their papers covered in red ink. So, if they write with partners or groups, they should be able to edit and make choices while in the group process. This should increase the frequency of feedback from each other and me since I can "drop in" on the collaborative Gdocs or look over the shoulder when writing on paper and they can talk to each other about the choices they are making. I can increase the number of formative writing tasks (notice I did not say assignment!), and decrease the number (but increase the quality) of summative assignments. This will also take the pressure off of students and hopefully they won't procrastinate writing in general. I have been so tired of doing writing the traditional way and getting poor quality final essays. Writing is a process, so why should I only focus on the final product. It doesn't make sense!

Any additional ideas on writing?

Seniors vs. Freshmen
For the first time in my 14 year career, I'm teaching one section of senior general level English. I'm enjoying the class, but I'm concerned. While the seniors are agreeable and behaved, they have also been well-trained in the traditional mode: they love listening to me talk and tell them answers. This is great if I were a traditional type teacher-- but as you can guess from my blog, I'm not. We did a version of the collaborative Google Doc, but it was focused on finding answers to a web quest on Beowulf. It was not as involved of a lesson as the freshmen. While it is nice to not have to deal with behavior issues and the traditional model here would be soooooo easy to implement, I still want the students to think for themselves-- and frankly, I'd get bored with the traditional method. I like flipping, using cooperative learning, and meta-cognition. My initial focus this year with the seniors will be to connect the literature to the students' lives, showing them how the concepts are universal and to apply that knowledge to making decisions out in the real world. I can try to un-train them from the traditional model, but I'm concerned that there won't be much time for reprogramming. 

Any thoughts or advice on teaching seniors? 

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