Monday, October 22, 2012

Heroes & Big Huge Labs (I'm not talking about Brody)

Both my 9th grade Honors students and my one section of 12th grade general-level students start the year off studying the Hero's Journey concept and connect it to literature. The freshmen work with their summer reading books (The Hobbit  by J.R.R. Tolkien and Abarat by Clive Barker) and the seniors apply the concept to Beowulf. For both sets of students, they are at the cusp of a new beginning: the freshmen need to be called to action and learn how to think for themselves, and the seniors need to be pushed into thinking about being out in the abyss of the real world beyond the school.

For independent reading, two weeks ago, I assigned my 9th grade Honors students the novel Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey and the seniors Grendel by John Gardner. For the freshmen, I posted resources to facilitate their understanding of the novel on Edmodo and stated that there will be a Hero's Journey Unit Test that will assess students' understanding of the Hero's Journey concept and their application of the concept to the two summer reading novels and Dragonsong.  I told the students, "Do what you know to do when reading a novel.  All your past and present English teachers have modeled how to study a novel. Now this is your call to adventure to show that you know how to apply the same process." That's it. I got the usual questions...

"What will be on the test?" 
         "What do I write down?"
"Will you be collecting the stuff that is on Edmodo?"
       "Will you be grading this?"

Essentially, they wanted to play the game of school:  do what the teacher tells the students to do.  They wanted to be lead instead of becoming leaders.  I refused to give in. Any student question was answered with an additional question.

I wasn't as tortuous for the seniors. I gave them a handout on paper with questions organized by topic (setting, theme, character, etc) instead of by chapter and told them they had 12 days to finish the novel (essentially a chapter a day). Trying to sound like a college professor, I said, "Get it done. Period."

I did want to check on the students and make sure that they were reading, but I didn't want to do it in the traditional manner (despite giving a traditional test later) and just give a quiz assessing reading comprehension, and I did want to use higher-level thinking skills without it turning into a huge project. So, when introduced to Big Huge Labs in my MAIT class, I thought, "Ah-ha! This is how I will check and get students to synthesize!"

Big Huge Labs has nothing to do with dogs (as far as I know) or my therapy dog, Brody, but it is a FREE, useful site for creating quick digital projects. More like a personal photography laboratory, users can upload pictures to create motivational posters, trading cards, magazine covers, mosaics  and just about any photo-based project. Assessments for reading do not necessarily need to be a "Gotcha" traditional quiz that assesses comprehension. Quick digital projects such as these will show whether students have "gotten it."

For grading, students could do peer assessment using a checklist and OSU rubric or the teacher could assess using the OSU rubric, evaluating the use of the text, the choice of image, and the overall presentation of the card or motivational poster.    

The freshmen were assigned to create trading cards based on the characters in Dragonsong and the seniors created a motivational poster for either "Beowulf" or Grendel.  Students doing a keyword Google Image search found relevant pictures, pulled information from the text and synthesized it into the trading card or motivational poster as applicable.

Comparing two cards on the same character, I know one paid more attention than the other while reading. I also can guess based on the character chosen and the description how far the student read into the text.

This one above has spelling errors and a poor choice in the picture.

The not-so academic seniors made some phenomenal and easy posters on "Beowulf" and Grendel. Students were able to quickly and adeptly show they understood concepts in the two stories. Students can customize the colors, fonts, and borders of the text and picture.  Notice, that while two students used the same picture, the feel of the end product is unique to each. This project can also provide a quick glimmer into the personality of the student with the choices he/she makes.

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