Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Does Literature Say About Human Beings?

All of second semester, my ninth grade honors students explored the BIG question, "What does literature say about human beings?" They were asked to work together in groups of their own choosing (3-4 participants) and put together a multimedia presentation of their answer to this question. Presented during their final exam time, this was their final assessment in this class. As well as answering this question, the assignment had additional requirements in that the groups needed to determine if they agreed or disagreed with what literature said, and then use modern examples to prove/disprove their answer. The final product was to be creative, captivating, as well as thorough. (In case you don't realize the beauty of this kind of project, the question they would normally have received during the final exam was now at the beginning of the semester. This way, we were able to refer back to the question as well as use it as a focus with all texts we studied. Furthermore, they connected this question to their other classes, their lives, and the world around them- you gotta love it!)

In order to begin completing this project, I outlined the units we would be studying this semester: a social issue independent reading novel, poetry, 1984, and Farewell to Manzanar. After each unit was completed, the groups were able to have time to work collaboratively, figuring out how they wanted to answer the question and in what format they wanted to present their findings. Also, the groups worked with me to determine a rubric for the assignment as well as determining into what grading category the assignment should fall. This project was student-based where they determined the answer as well as how it should be assessed.

After watching the tremendous hours and valuable collaborative discussions many groups put into this project, I would most certainly assign the challenge to my classes in the future. I was impressed by how each groups' presentations were so varied as well as the methodology behind presenting their findings. Groups used PowerPoint, PhotoStory, and MovieMaker. Some groups chose to look at the semester under one large topic (i.e. humans are hurtful to one another) while other groups broke it down to each text specifically (i.e. social issue books say humans are vengeful, Farewell to Manzanar says human can survive, etc...). I even had one group who choose to cover the material from their entire freshman year. Impressive!

Also, to me, this project is exactly what is required of them in the "real world." They were asked to synthesize information, work in a collaborative group, blend each participants' differing ideas, be creative, be original, and learn something.

I hope you take the time to watch what they have created and offer some constructive criticism. If you only have time to pick one I would pick "Experiences" (wonderful blend of music and visuals to enhance their presentation- plus it made me cry). I do think they are all worth watching!

Emotions:Man's Greatest Failure



Man Strives for Superiority

People Looking For More

Oppressive and Selfish


Don't Think Before You Act

Me, Me, Me


Theresa G said...

I'm still new at this blogging thing - particularly the etiquette of letting folks know when I comment on their posts in my blog. But I wanted to let you know that the work your students did was inspiring!! I posted about it on my blog at
Kudos to you all!!

Lynne Crowe said...

Well done to all the students involved in these projects. So far I have watched a couple of the videos and I am really impressed with the thoughtful work. This work is an inspiration to others who want to do something different in English.

Candace Hackett Shively said...

I didn't read directions well and first posted this on Karl Fisch's blog---oops.I'm as bad as the kids.

To Anne and the students who synthesized their experience of literature and media in "Experiences":
So many marvelous images that are so well-selected to build your message! You do such a thorough job of showing me how all these pieces of literature ----and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (by the way, he'd have pronounced his middle name "ZJahk" - one syllable) share common themes. What a huge endeavor to pull so many examples together, find commonalities (and nuanced differences), generating your OWN commentary on the human condition, with connections in your own lives. I wonder if you will ever read a piece of literature or a newspaper story again without starting to connect it in some way to what you have said here. I can hear you questioning what a new story means in terms of this framework-- and mentally revising this framework as your experience broadens. And will you write some stories or poems of your own, out of your own experiences? I hope so.

A bit of criticism, because everyone can get better:
There are times when I wish the words and images could co-exist more and share the screen/audio track less obtrusively. In other places, your presentation is seamless. Where you change from photographs to geometric background, I am startled a bit. When you put more than one or two lines of text on the screen, I am frustrated. When you read to me, I am offended. You pictures tell the story for me. If you are going to narrate (which you really need to do to underscore your meaning and make sure your audience gets the full message you have crafted), let pieces of text tell the story-- and animate them so I am not inundated with more than one at a time. You do not bury me with photomontages. You let me savor each image alone. Please let me do that with the texts, as well. Even though this is English class, I don't think you have to use complete sentences on screen. What are the words I MUST see to hear the common threads?
Your narrator had a gigantic job--and I think it tired her in places. Maybe you could have taken turns to add expression and variety---but that is being very picky on my part.

I hope you are able to build on this kind of experience by making more and experimenting with ways to tell your story in the next three years before you graduate. You will leave your teachers with examples that will challenge others to find their own visual motifs and individual messages. Maybe that can be part of your story. I hope you thanked your teacher for setting you free to learn.

I thank you for letting me share in it.

- Another teacher, reader, humanities-type in another state in the U.S.

Jim Gates said...

I tried to post this before but it didn't take, so I"ll try again.

First of all, it was GREAT to finally meet Mrs Smith at NECC this year. She's on my Who's Who list so it was fun to meet her in person.

But, I wanted to comment to the students about your work here. I guess I'll just point you to my blog post about it here: Tipline post.

I will say that I think this is a wonderful assignment and that those projects featured here are outstanding! I have pointed to your work in the past (The "This I Believe" project, for one) and I continue to watch your work. As I say in my blog, Hats off to Mrs Smith and to you, the students. Know that I always point teachers to your work when I do workshops about teacher blogs and student work.

Declan "Danger" said...

Being that i was actually one of the students that did this project, i thought my opinion could be of use. even though this project was a little tough, i definitely think you should continue with it. it made me make connections that i wouldn't have made otherwise. and having it replace a final exam was a good idea. it took a lot of stress out of the end of the year, especially because we could work on it all semester. overall, i'd say keep it. it was a good project.

javieth said...

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