After a long and drawn out approval process, our 9th grade Honors students were able to read Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother after reading George Orwell’s 1984. Throughout the novels, we completed a multitude of chronological charts connecting the years of 1920-1950 to the book 1984, and 1950-2006 to Little Brother. We wanted kids to examine the events that might have influence these authors to write their novels. All along we asked the kids to think about “What have we learned or what haven’t we learned from these two novels? And given that information, where are we going as a society?”
Every activity during this 8 week process built upon our students formulating an understanding of those questions. From watching videos about MIT’s 6th sense, Google Googles, and Karl Fisch’s 2020 to reading about full body scanners and laptops being used to track student’s home life. We also brought in guest speakers from our History department who talked with the kids about the events surrounding WWII that would have influenced Orwell and post 9/11 legislations /actions that influenced Doctorow. We even had kids figure out the connections between Ned Kelly, The Chicago 7, and our protagonist Marcus Yarrow(can you figure that one out?). Towards the end of the unit, we had the kids write about Ben Franklin’s quote from 1759, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Upon completion of reading both texts, the kids were challenged then with writing a paper defending their answer to the questions “What have we learned or what haven’t we learned from these two novels? And given that information, where are we going as a society?” that wasn’t a traditional black and white paper, but a Wikified Research paper.
As a previous student wrote:
In most English classes, inventing new verbs is reserved for confused students. However, in English 9 honors, wikified has become a universal verb penned by none other than the teacher herself…. A WRP, or wikified research paper, is made on wikispaces.com [and this year we added Google Sites] and allows students to link to resources within their papers, along with embedding various images and videos within their papers. This concept broadens the research paper from words on a piece of paper to a worldwide published work that includes interactive and supplementary elements which help define and support the student’s thesis.
As the students composed thesis statements defending their view point, we taught them about the wonders of wikispaces and Google Sites showing them the difference between publishing a paper for their teacher to publishing a paper for the world. There is a whole new level of engagement and responsibility in writing a paper of this magnitude.
Throughout the writing process, the students were challenged with composing something that was meaningful and relevant to their take-aways from the novels. Some students felt we have learned nothing as a society and continue to fall into the same traps Orwell and Doctorow identify such as blind acceptance of the truth, inability to decide for oneself, lack of trust in government and others, and the overwhelming power of technology. Others feel that because of Marcus’ role in Little Brother and Winston’s role in 1984, that we are learning not to blindly accept what others say and that everyone is empowered to challenge the system.
The students were also asked as a result of their learnings what will happen to us in the future. This part of the WRP could take any form: traditional paragraph, podcast, poem, video, etc…. If they could imagine it, they could create it. I think this is the part of the paper I have enjoyed more than any other. The kids are challenged with creating their own interpretation of a world which they have a greater role in. As they progress through these influencing years of learning, they are creating a future which could mimic their predictions, or challenge the future they see.
At the end of the writing process, the students turn in their wiki work and arrange for a assessment date with Maura or I. We grade their papers together talking through what the student’s intended in each paragraph as well as what we take away from their writing. The writing process comes alive at this point with the ability to walk each student through their thoughts clarifying confusions and appreciating their willingness to do something different. With each paper, I am able to see a clearer picture into my students’ writing mind reflecting back on their growth and seeing the amazing possibilities that lie in front of them. It is so powerful to sit next to each kid while commenting on the creativity of their work and feeling their personal pride in a job well done. Their exuberance at showing their teacher, and I would even guess the world, their thinking is inspiring.
I would encourage you to look through their work as well giving them feedback.