Posts Tagged ‘creative assessment’

A very ambitious plan for an art experience based on Invisible Cities

So, I’ve been thinking about the installation art proposal project that I assigned for a last assessment in my senior English class. I wrote about how excited I was as the students got to work. (Check out the details of the assignment and whatnot). As I said before, I was nervous about the final projects. We are talking about second-semester senior year, last assignment, out of the box project that I thought was super cool. Sometimes I forget that not only am I still uncool, but I am also old now, and therefore what I think is a cool assignment does not always translate that way to my students. Sometimes my enthusiasm can bridge the gap, but not always.

Well, I am happy to report that the entire enterprise was a success. And not even just an end-of-the-year-they-turned-something-in success. It would be a success at any time of the year.

First, the students engaged in the kind of thinking I wanted them to do. In creating their proposals, they had to review some of the key thematic ideas of the course and one of the texts in particular. In addition, they had to consider how to transform ideas from one medium into another while thinking about what would make for an engaging and thoughtful art installation (thanks to @oneissilva I know this is called transmediation). As I walked around the room during the several class periods of work time, I loved what I heard. And, I wished that I had a group to work with too.

On the day of the presentations, we had some guests–two other teachers who are also department chairs. I like to have visitors for a couple of reasons. First, the students usually do better with an audience (the audience effect is real). I like to make the presentation a bit more of an event and visitors do that. Also, visitors keep me honest. I can get a little carried away when I think things are going well. I get too excited and think everything is awesome (is everyone singing the LEGO movie theme song now? Just me?) So, being able to check in later with another colleague who was a witness to the event is a good dose of reality. I take advantage of their feedback when I give final grades for the work too.

The actual proposals and posters worked in a lot of ways. First, the format allowed the students to focus on the idea and concept rather than the actual creation of an art piece, but at the same time, it was easy to imagine the exhibit. The structure and outline of the types of information that were required meant that if the group did each part, the audience had a good sense of the ideas and concept.

A note on grading. I considered this project a complete success and the grades ranged from B- to A. Every group tackled the work thoughtfully. Some groups ultimately were missing a few bits or had more straightforward ideas, but I consider every project to be a success. There were 6 proposals and each book that we read was chosen by some group.

Here are a few details from some of the proposals. Note: since this is a fantasy book class, so I did say that they could plan to have some things happen “automagically” in their exhibits.

One group planned a multi-room experience inspired by Bailey, from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

 

The exhibit itself is designed to have viewers initially interact with a series of touch screens arranged in a circle, like a clock (the clock is important in the book and the group made a strong case for the clock’s connection to Bailey). Then viewers go through another room with many varied settings to wander through and finally end up in a space where each person sees a personalized video that is created based on what the person did on the screens in the first room and where they wandered in the second space. The idea was that viewers would get insight into their own dreams and desires and therefore be more able to take action to make them real, like Bailey. (I am not doing their ideas justice here, by the way.) The group also described the experience of walking through their space in the style of a particular part of the book (the interludes that describe how “you” experience the circus, for those who have read the book).

This group also commented on the way their ideas changed over the course of their brainstorming. I love seeing this, and the success I have had this year in asking for some amount of process commentary on assignments has totally convinced me to include this type of commentary on pretty much everything next year.

 

Another group planned a heart exhibit for the Tin Man from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As they were planning, I was concerned that their idea was quite literal. Oh, how wrong I was. Visitors move through 4 metal rooms (the chambers of the heart) while wearing a heart monitor that allows sounds and lights to match the heart rate of the viewer, among other things. It is a dark, conceptual plan.

Below is their description of what happens in the first chamber of the heart. They were super serious about their idea, even though they had a grand time in the planning.

Two groups planned exhibits based in some way on Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. One dealt with the journey aspect of the book and tried to tackle each type of city, creating something more concrete from the very abstract ideas of the book. They were an idea factory! (The image at the beginning of the post is their plan.) My favorite part of this plan was the fact that on the way out visitors walked a kind of ring road that circumnavigated all the previous rooms and allowed them to look back in on the other spaces and reflect. Here is some of what this group said about their work:

Artist Statement: We want the audience to go through our installation and get a view into the mind of Marco Polo, while making their own connections and redefining what it means to know a place. Marco Polo stated he connected every city he visited to his own, Venice, which is why each room, or set of rooms in the case of hidden cities and cities and the dead, is accessible only through Venice. As each room represents a grouping of cities from Hidden Cities, we also want the audience to see that each grouping is applicable to all cities, though in different ways.
Process Commentary: The eyes room was inspired by Ai Weiwei’s installation piece entitled “Hansel and Gretel,” in which the audience is tracked by cameras in the first space, then is later able to find themselves in past footage and pictures in a second space using face recognition. We originally thought we would have one room with maps of different cities everywhere and strings connecting each one to Venice and the other cities in its category, but we ended up deciding individual rooms all leading back to Venice would work nicely. As we did not want to lose the connection between cities, we made continuous cities a loop where each person can look into the rooms previously visited, and reflect on how everything comes together. We also made some interesting new connections from the book, and after the floor plan poster idea was set started trying to figure out the big picture of each grouping. During brainstorming, we decided cities and the sky, cities of the dead, and hidden cities could all be in one close to one another, with hidden cities literally being embedded in the city of the dead.

The other took a more conceptual approach to the same text and proposed a two-room installation that spoke to the idea that even those far away from a city can have power over it and impact how it changes. Visitors in the first room interact with a seemingly random group of objects. As they do this, a city changes in the next room. When the visitors enter the next room, they see the city but also two side by side videos of their actions in the earlier room and what happened in the city room.

Each group had some sort of visual, but it was secondary, as was planned. The driving force was the idea.

I really cannot wait to use this project idea again.

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So I’ve been thinking about the final project for my senior English class. I have known that this would be the assignment in some shape or other since the summer. It was one of the very first things that I determined about the class, and I’ve been excited about it ever since.

A little background.

This is a one semester, interdisciplinary English class focusing on fantasy literature and in particular fantastic places. For this final unit, we have learned about installation art (I wrote about my students’ voicethread projects on installation artist the other day), and we have just read The Night Circus by Ellen Morgenstern. In the book, two magicians make various displays and tens within a magical circus (think more fair than circus in that there are many displays and parts of the place rather than a single big top). The circus, open only at night, travels from city to city and serves as a venue for a competition between the two magicians, who have each been trained by a different teacher. Some of the tents that they create have the feel of installation art. I told the students the rough outline of this assignment about halfway through our reading. I would have told him sooner but It would not have made sense. Here is what I shared with them at that point:

Immersive Environment Proposal

Simply put, you will create a proposal and explanation for an immersive environment. This environment should have one specific, intended audience member (from one of our course texts) and allow for others to participate. It should also address a big idea that we have investigated over the course of the semester.

Things to consider or questions you need to answer:

  • What big, conceptual ideas will your work/space examine?
  • Who is this space for? You need to have a specific audience member (presumably a character from the semester, but if you have other ideas, please ask) in mind and design for that person (and others)
  • How does this space speak to both you and your audience member?
  • How do you imagine the audience moving or not around the space and why?
  • How does the audience interact with the environment? Can they change it or engage with it in a way that alters the experience?
  • What materials would you use and why?
  • How have you been inspired by any of the artists you or your classmates studied? Be specific about your inspiration.
  • Consider technological and fantastic options. Just because you don’t know HOW you would make it work, doesn’t mean you can’t suggest or plan as if you did.

More details about words and images to come, but this is enough to let you get started thinking.

 

We really started talking about it a little more in earnest as they finished the last section of the book. I asked for feedback from a few colleagues. I talked with the class about product and group or individual project.  We actually came to the idea of a poster session as a group. After all that, I added what I think are clarifications to the description of the assignment.

Please look at the TED Talk video on The Night Circus topic page (on LMS) I think it gives a good example of how an artist might think about big ideas yet represent them in maybe unexpected ways.

Due Date: Friday, May 4th.

Format: poster (and shadow box or model–optional) with images and text.

  • Artist statement
  • Detailed description of the piece. This does not all have to be words. You can and should have some visual elements here (diagram, colors, picture of materials, etc). How will visitors experience the work? What do you hope they notice? etc
  • Process commentary. This will walk us through the ideas you drew upon, reference images or artists you borrowed from, discuss the process of coming to your final idea. (So, take notes along the way of where your ideas have come from and how they have changed).

We will have a gallery walk through the proposals. There is a special schedule on Friday. 4th is after 1st. I am worried about completing all proposals in a single period. We may need to meet on Monday for part of the time as well.

I have been updating a Pinterest board with images of installation art and linked that to our class page as well. The groups are formed. The topics are chosen. The students are working. On Monday I had expected that we would have time to work in class after finishing a discussion. However, the discussion was going so well that we didn’t get to it. So, students have had time in class but only the past couple of days. I would have liked to have given them shorter bits of time over more days, but that is not how things turned out.

One of the things that I needed to clarify and find a way to explain more was the idea of this being an art piece, not a stage set or an illustration of some piece of the book. Most of the very first ideas they were batting around in their groups were very literal. I was concerned. After another conversation with my art colleague who had helped out during the introduction to installation art, I returned with the following words: our goal is Art, not illustration. While this seems succinct and to the point, I was not sure that the students would know what to do with it. I added more to the assignment description. (Sometimes I just can’t help myself.)

NOTES:

  • Our goal here is ART, not illustration. That doesn’t mean you might not start with some more literal representations of your ideas, but then consider how to move a bit away from that. Your audience should be able to bring their own experiences and ideas to the work. You don’t want to dictate exactly what they are supposed to think or see.
  • It is fine to be inspired by or have someone else’s work spark an idea for you as long as you then do something different with it. It’s hard to explain why seeing x makes you think of y. Giving credit to that initial spark does not make you unoriginal. It makes you a respectful member of a community of creators.
  • Keep generating ideas. Don’t necessarily settle for the first idea that comes to you. Be willing to engage in significant revision to the point that the initial plan is not even visible.

Oh, me of little faith.

On Wednesday, students came in with lots of ideas. They must have been doing some thinking about the project, and I was impressed by where many of their ideas had gone. While there is still a lot of literal underpinning for what they’re planning, they are pushing themselves to be more abstract as well.

Victory!

A couple of the groups had some heated discussion about where and how they would bring their ideas to life. One group has been laughing up a storm as they try to imagine making their ideas visible–blood and wolves are involved. This group is particularly amusing to me because two of the three students are from my 5th grade class, and as I watch them laughing about  the absurdity of some of their ideas, I can see them as those 5th graders in my room who laughed about the craziness of the Greek myths and ran around the playground at recess. Usually, I walk around and talk with each group, which I did some of, but there was so much good conversation happening in each group that I really didn’t want to interrupt the flow. I did more walking and listening. And, at some point, I just sat down. They really did not need me to do anything else.

I am so excited to see the final results.

CCO Creative Commons image

So, I’ve been thinking about student choice and format of work. I have been trying to remember and put into action what Marc Prensky said at an ADVIS event several years ago, “assign the verb not the noun.” This means assign what I want students to do, not exactly the tool or format it must take. (I wrote about something else from the event at the time; isn’t it interesting what you think is going to really stick with you and then what does stick with you?)

To date, I have been able to put this idea into action on more creative assignments. This year I have assigned things like “research and share your findings” or “demonstrate interdisciplinary thought” (that one really made folks crazy) but not “powerpoint presentation” or “podcast”. As it turns out, most students ended up choosing a similar format for these exercises, but I made a real point to talk about the actions and the important thinking work rather than numbers of slides or minutes of audio.

The current assignment my English 12 students are working on is the first time I have assigned “write” and not added “a paper” or “a story” after it. The assignment is, for the most part, an analytical paper that is meant to get students thinking about two works of fantasy and some other big ideas of the course. It is an assignment that lends itself to a typical English paper, but it is not an assignment that REQUIRES a typical English paper. It turns out that for the vast majority of my students, a regular, old English paper is just fine right about now. However, for one student a screenplay was the format of choice. He is SO excited about this prospect. Now, I did not just say, “great. Go for it. See you later.” We chatted about some of his plot options, and I definitely pushed for one particular idea over the others (which I thought was manageable and better answered the requirements of the assignment). It still may not be great. However, the student has been working hard on it, and, given that. I think there is a better chance that the finished product will be a better representation of this student’s best work.

Whenever I assess work, I want to learn something about the student’s progress with a particular skill or mastery of a particular concept. If I know that the student didn’t put forth much effort or that the format in which I collected this data was particularly difficult for the student, then the results on the assessment are less meaningful for me. Of course, there are some assessment formats that may be important skills as well. In that case, I just need to be aware of what I am actually measuring when I evaluate the particular assessment.

Back to my student. I have read the first draft and have made a number of significant suggestions. So far, the student continues to be willing to engage in the discussion; therefore, I am still positive about the experience for the student and the amount of thinking the student has had to do about the ideas and content. Since I always want my students to be successful, I hope that there is a lot of revising between now and the final draft. The screenplay has a lot of potential. But, even if it doesn’t get a lot better, I will know that I am looking at the result of significant time and engagement.

I start the flipgrid conversation, with fun yellow glasses.

So I’ve been thinking about formative assessment. Originally I began this post “I’ve been thinking about how much/often to check in on student progress.” However, “checking in on student progress” is really the same thing as formative assessment, so I’m going to say that I’ve been thinking about formative assessment; it makes me feel better. Formative assessment is something I am trying to work on.

A little background. Students in my class are engaged in a medium-term project (see hyperdoc, some links deactivated) The project was structured so that the initial work was some thinking and writing about book we recently read followed by some independent research that went a little farther afield and then to is followed by group work on a question to be determined by the group that is presumably going to be informed by the independent research. There are a couple of potentially contradictory characteristics about the students in the class. They are seniors in an honors-level course and therefore should be able to keep up with independent research, stay on track, and do all the things. And, they are seniors in honors-level class and therefore are smart people who sometimes put things off and can BS their way through. Since I come from a lower school background, I tend to include lots of checking in points. Older students are may be less a fan of that. I want to balance expecting and respecting their independence with assessing how their research is going early on before it goes too far off track.

I made a grand plan for this little mini unit. (Those of you who are familiar with my planning will not be surprised that it was perhaps a grander plan than was necessary or was advisable given that this is a new-to-me class, but there you have it.) And, I Incorporated some check-ins, which I’m now calling formative assessment, along the way. As I wrote last year, I am a fan of the audio response, and I thought this was another good opportunity for audio. The other thing that I wanted to happen with these little formative-assessment-check-ins was the ability for classmates to listen in on one each other. There are two reasons for this. First, I want us to feel like a group working on connected work, and it’s hard to feel very connected to other people’s work if you don’t know what it is. And second, the students need to form groups based on research that they think goes together, not just people they like to sit with in class. Therefore, I chose to use flipgrid, which I have recommended to people before and seen others use, but have not actually used myself. It was a great opportunity to try something new for me as well.

When it came time for the students, according to my grand plan, to have done a little flipgrid checking in, I was worried that they would forget. We were heading into a long weekend; there was a lot going on; there a lot of moving parts to this project overall. I really wanted to email the group on Friday and remind them. However, I resisted. know better. Come the end of the long weekend, there were not too many flipgrid videos. I was the first one to add a video; I thought I would model the assignment. Flipgrid lets the recorder add goofy hats or whatnot to the still image, which I could not resist. The student comments started coming in. I think every person who has commented has had some little drawing, do-dad, or design on their picture, and it is so funny to me that these mostly full-grown people are also still those 10-year-olds who loved to fancify their mindmaps in 5th grade. I love that.

As I listened to the student flip grade comments, I was really struck by a couple of things. First, of course, students could have done a little bit more research. But one of the other things I noticed was that a lot of what they shared was information I thought they already knew. Now, some of this could be students telling me things they already know, as opposed to things they researched, but I don’t think that’s true for all of. I’m fairly certain that I misjudged just how much background many students had. I learned something I needed to know. Isn’t this the point of formative assessment? These little check-ins were super helpful for me in terms of getting my head around what to expect and how to help support students in coming up with their next research questions.

Another thing I noticed was that several of the students were doing a good job of seeing patterns and generalizing. For example one of the things students needed to do was look at a wide range of images in the art database Art Store. Again, there is a wide range of experience in the class. We have practiced looking at art, we haven’t gotten very far, but we’ve done some good “slow looking.” A lot of students were able to see trends and patterns in the images they reviewed. More good information for me from this formative assessment.

This little formative assessment moment had a great return on investment. From two brief (2 minutes max) flipgrids from each student, I was able to have a more specific conversation with that student, assess some new skills (looking at art), and adjust my instruction along the way. Bonanza!

So, I’ve been thinking about the plans my students presented before spring break. The project was a YA book plan, either historical fiction or fantasy, depending on the genre the students in the group had been reading.

Last year, the entire class was reading various fantasy books and everyone, either in a group or alone, created a plan for a fantasy book. (I wrote about it last year, including the project description.) It was very successful in that students did good work, did not hate the project, were creative and collaborative, and I got new information about their interests and abilities.

This year, I have a lot of students who like historical fiction and/or don’t particularly like fantasy. So, I quickly created a historical fiction unit as an option to the fantasy unit. Historical fiction worked for a similar book concept final project which meant I could keep my successful project by making a few simple tweaks. (Fantasy project description. Historical fiction project description.)

Students knew about the project from the beginning of the unit. Having fantasy and historical fiction units going on simultaneously does not seem like an obvious pairing. As they read and talked about various books, I frequently connected at least part of our discussion to their goal of a new book project. Not only did that remind students of the upcoming tasks, but provided a unifying element in what might otherwise be a pretty random situation. For example, after each group’s first reading assignment, we looked at beginnings. I did a little talking about options writers have for beginnings, then groups examined the way their writer and text started, talked about the benefits and potential drawbacks, and finally, students wrote individually on a forum about what they were thinking about in terms of a beginning strategy for the book they would plan.

Once we got to the project, again the students really came through. This is work they are doing the week before spring break, not a time known for high-level work. Students had a short amount of time. Although they were to come in with some basic ideas on Monday, they basically started work on that Monday, had class Monday and Tuesday (long block of 65 minutes), homework time, and presented on either Wednesday or Thursday (the Thursday groups each had someone missing on Monday or Tuesday). With only four groups (3 historical fiction, 1 fantasy) I could spend quality time with each group asking questions, pushing them to consider options etc. On Monday, I was worried. They had ideas but were pretty far from solidifying anything. On Tuesday, they were significantly farther along. With a long class period that day, I was also able to get around to each group twice. It was interesting to see how various ideas changed and what had either fallen by the wayside or moved to the front.

It was clear from the final presentations that the groups had thought a lot about the structures of the books we have read over the course of the semester, beyond this unit. (Narrative structure has been an ongoing topic of discussion.) All groups made very particular choices about format and structure that they explained in terms of their responses to other works they read earlier in the semester. Students did solid research for the historical fiction stories. They thought about how they would incorporate enough of the necessary history into the story without sounding like a textbook. The fantasy group had animal characters and made interesting choices about character traits and lessons learned. In addition, each group had a presentation that included images to help us imagine the setting or characters. A few of them were very creative visually.

I was thrilled.

And, I was worried that maybe I was just being the proud teacher and excited over mediocre work done by students I love. It’s sometimes easy for me to spread affection over work like jelly, allowing it to cover burnt toast. I know this about myself. However, I invited another teacher to the presentations (The year before I was worried students wouldn’t take the assignment seriously and had another teacher there for the serious factor. This group did not need that, but whenever there is a performance/presentation, I think it’s a great idea to have outside eyes and ears for celebratory or seriousness reasons.) Then, I showed the final products to a real, live YA author. While neither of these ladies thought my students should give up their day jobs of being high school students, they both agreed that my students’ work was indeed quality stuff.

Whew.

What a great way to head off to spring break.

Here are a few slides from the presentations:

This book plan combines Ann Frank’s diary with a boy in a detention center. The boy has to read about Ann Frank and write in response to her entries. His initials are also AF, which I thought was a great little twist. This is an example of some sample text that might be in their book.

 

This book concept focusses on 9-11. There are four main characters who do not all connect to each other. At the end, they are all at the 9-11 memorial at exactly the same time. This is what each a shared chapter/passage.

 

More sample text. This concept has the story set in WWII, but in North Africa. There are two main characters, one older, one younger. The plan is for the younger medic to tell the story, but have the older soldier as a friend/mentor and information/history source.

 

Finally, the fantasy story. This story is about a naked mole rat who wants to see “above” and light and colors. The background on the slide is a maze of tunnels.

So, I’ve been thinking about reflection. Again. Always. It is going to be a theme for the year at my school.

See, how that is working out? I slowly got more people on board, kept talking about how it was connected to whatever anyone was talking about. . .

Anyway, I had planned to start off with some get to know you/reflection form with my senior class. However, with this and that getting in the way, my questionnaire was incomplete and I was about to scrap it. Then, I ran into a colleague who was also asking her class some basic questions, and I was reinspired. I’m so glad I was.

I thought about what I would really need to know and what would be helpful for my students to think about. I also thought about those posts going around the interwebs at the moment about asking students what they wish their teacher knew about them. Here’s what I came up with.

 

Nothing fancy, but seemed reasonable.

Once again, I am so glad I asked. How often will I say/write this before I stop being amazed? Hard to say.

I learned lots of interesting information. Several students noted that they are visual learners. Right away I altered the product options for the first assignment. Rather than everyone having to make a rubric, which is not all that interesting visually, I made a flow chart/infographic an option as well. My goal for the work is for students to consider the characteristics they do and do not appreciate in ‘good reads’ and then to create a tool to use in measuring these same qualities.I’m looking for sophisticated comparison and evaluation along several characteristics. A rubric will work, but honestly it’s not the only thing that will work. And, rubric making is not the skill I am looking to improve so no one has to do that for me to get the information I want. A well done if-this-then-that chart with plenty of options and alternative routes will show me just as much of the student’s thought process and let me evaluate the complexity of their evaluation just as well.

The added bonus of giving additional product options is that if one particular product is more to a student’s liking, then I am more likely to get better work and work that more accurately demonstrates the student’s understanding. What teacher wants to spend time evaluating something that isn’t a good representation of a student’s ability or knowledge? Not this teacher.

I haven’t seen the products yet. And, I may need to give a little class time for tweaking as I did not do much explaining of the assignment, although it was described on the assignment sheet. (How much should I have to explain an assignment such as this to seniors, if I linked to examples of rubrics? A post for another time.) However, I am going to put this in the win category in terms of using student feedback to inform my teaching. I hope the products are good too.

 

 

 

 

 

So, I’ve been thinking about the assessments I give my students. My students have been thinking about the assessments too, mostly in a could-we-not-do-that kind of way.

Monsters and ninjas for prizes

Monsters and ninjas for prizes

Earlier in the month I announced it was time to write a book review of the novel we had just finished reading. Wild applause. Groans all around. These are second semester seniors. Please can we do something else. Can we do a presentation? Can we work in groups? I made no promises, but went home and thought about it. I thought about my goals for the assignment, our remaining time, and the final project, which is not changing. I also went to a talk by New York Times film critic A. O. Scott. Now, I do not currently watch a lot of movies because if my husband and I go out, I prefer to eat and talk, all without cooking or cleaning. We are now just in the no-babysitter-needed phase, but before that, if I was going to pay for a babysitter and sit in silence, the movie had to be awfully good. So, not a lot of movies got watched. Anyhow, a colleague asked if I wanted to go hear A. O. Scott at a local movie theater, and I said sure.

There I am listening to Mr. Scott, Tony it turns out, be interviewed. Super interesting. He talked about opinion writing and critique in general as “an exercise in explaining your thought process.” He spoke about the various and particular objectives and tactics one can employ in writing a review. One that stood out to me was the idea that a review might aim to introduce a work to an audience who would not guess the work would be of interest. In addition there was some fascinating discussion of which movies stand the test of time and make you want to watch them again. It was interesting to hear about movies that were audience and critical favorites that just faded away and those that were panned in their day, yet are now considered classics. It was totally energizing. I scribbled notes on whatever paper I could find in my purse. Then, I thought about which ideas I could use for my class.

The next day I combined part of an old idea from 5th grade with some A. O. Scott inspiration and some feedback from another colleague; I had a plan. (Once again, I would like to say how much I value talking to my colleagues and getting to bounce ideas off them. I do not know if they appreciate my bounciness, but I love it.) I decided that I wanted the students to consider evaluating the books we have read in comparison to each other across several categories. So, I made 3 groups; each group had someone who had read each book. Then I finalized my five categories: complex characters, quality writing, read again, effective message (we are reading YA literature so message is big), combination of narrative structure and story.

Here is my very quickly written description:

For this task, your group will determine the winner and runners-up (book or character) in each category. So you need a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place finisher. Your group should first review each book across each category. Not all group members will have read all the books, but each group should have someone who read each book. In order to make your choices, you will need to decide how you will define the categories. Then, apply that definition to the books to determine the winner and runners-up.

In class, a representative from your group will present your decision and explain the group’s reasoning. Quotations or page/chapter references are expected. Each group member must present at least one category. We will then evaluate the choices and the reasoning behind the choices. The group should also have a visual to support the decision. There may be prizes.

I set the groups working, “working”  maybe. Once again, I cannot claim that everyone was engaged, but as I went from group to group, there was solid conversation comparing the books, which was what I wanted to happen. This review and comparison work was certainly more significant work and better at addressing the essential questions of the course than a single book review. Plus, it served as a good lead up to the final writing assignment that will ask them to consider a number of titles. The day before the presentations someone asked what the prizes would be. I may have forgotten about that part, but luckily I had some left over prizes from bribing my personal kids to do things. I brought those in the next day. (I have written before about seniors being like 5th graders. This is true in prize preference too, since I said money was not an option.)

The presentations were totally solid. Sometimes it’s because the individual is good at winging it, but even the wingers had done the prep and were therefore able to be convincing and articulate. I certainly got a better sense of what they were thinking about and the type of considerations they were making than I would have from a book review or even a comparison paper. They do have to write and learn to write effectively, but that is not the only way to present a position. We spent an entire long block and then some to get through everything.

My Reflections:

There are definitely tweaks to be made to this. I evaluated on the spot and gave prizes to the entire team of the winning presenter for each category. This added a little tension which was not a bad thing for the group. However, I’d like the students to do more of the evaluating next time. Also, I’d include reflection the next class period to explain what separated good from very good. Mostly it came down to having and applying a specific definition for the category. Everyone had a definition and pretty good reasons why they chose the order they chose, but for some groups either the definition was very bland or they had a definition but then did not use it as their measure against which to determine the winners.

Also, I noticed that most of the winning books were the books that I taught rather than books they read in the literature circle groupsThe Phantom Tollbooth was the big winner with one student saying, “it’s basically the perfect book.” So, did I choose the best books to teach myself? Or, did they get a lot less out of the books they read more independently? I have a lot to think about with these two questions before I can answer them.

This is definitely an assessment strategy to keep polishing.