Posts Tagged ‘English’

Image by Magnascan from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about whether to change the parameters on a class project.

Here’s the background. Our unit focuses on the monster portions of The Odyssey and several retellings or inspired-by texts. I told the class as we started the unit that their final project would be to come up with a plan for their own retelling or inspired-by story. I’ve mentioned it on day 1 and have been referencing this as our goal as we’ve progressed.

Anyway, I officially introduced the project the other with this hyperdoc. I planned for the project/presentation to be a group project. I’ve done “make a book plan” as a final assessment many times. I always do it as a group and plan on about 3 days of work time before the presentations. I have found that the groups generate a lot of ideas in their class time and then use the homework time to solidify and make progress. It has been one of my more successful group projects over the years. I knew several students had been thinking about it. However, I didn’t know they had been THINKING about it. Well, it turns out several of my students have been thinking about enough that they really wanted to do their own plan and one asked about doing an independent project/presentation.

I told my student I would consider the question and have more information the next day.

Honestly, after some consideration, I felt I could honor the request, with a few modifications. Here’s why. The group aspect of the project is for idea generation and to get work done in the time frame I am willing to devote to the work. This time the directions specify some individual and some collective tasks in the process. So, I am considering allowing those who want to work independently (if it is a small number) to do some of the collective tasks of sharing with each other but then allowing them to revert to independent work. I think having some amount of talking through their ideas with someone else is critical, and I can’t give on that, but if I have a few folks who are so engaged by the idea that they want to go it alone, I’m going to let them.

I came to class. Some groups formed. Some students decided to work independently. I told the independent folks that I was counting on them to be honest about their progress on day two and seriously consider joining forces if it seems the task is too large for one person, no judgment.

I crossed my fingers and set them to work.

Image by Andrew Martin via Pixabay.

So, I’ve been thinking about the idea of a “Taking Care of Me List” since I read Erin Ott’s Edutopia post in the summer. I loved the idea. It’s a short article. Probably better if you just skim it for the idea.

Ok, you’re back.

It’s definitely more accurate to say, I LOVED this idea. Partly, I loved it because it’s a more substantial version of something I usually do. (I routinely asked students on the first day to tell me what they need from a teacher or what I need to know to be the best teacher of them. I take notes. It’s been fine.)

And, I recognized that a “Taking Care of Me List” would be a logical and not-so-big next step to go from “fine” to really good.

So, in advance of the first day of school, I wrote my own version of Ms. Ott’s ‘taking care of me’ document. I titled mine “taking care of Ms. Eiteljorg and English 12.” I wanted to make the connection to the class as a collective, which is something I try to emphasize in several ways. Here’s what I wrote.

How to Take Care of Ms. Eiteljorg and our English 12 community:

  1. Bring all of your materials to class every day. Book we are reading, something to write with, laptop and/or notebook, notes. Don’t forget an open mind and a lean-in kind of attitude. There’s no sense in bringing all that stuff if you are not going to engage yourself in class.
  2. Act like this is your favorite class, even if it isn’t. I love this class. I want you to love it. In my head, I know not everyone will love it, but in my heart I imagine that we all want to be here and are  so excited to get to what we are doing that we can hardly contain ourselves. So, pretend you are into it. On the days that I am not feeling 100, I’ll pretend too. It will be better.
  3. Contribute.  Share your ideas, your questions, your writing, your reading, your opinion. Then, back it up. Listen to the ideas of others, disagree, don’t invalidate identity. This class will be as amazing as you make it. If you decide to contribute nothing, that’ll probably be what you’ll take away from it, too. See #2.
  4. Give me a chance. I like to mix it up in class, and I will ask you to think about ideas and opinions different from your own. We will do all different types of learning activities, and I will always have a plan. I will totally respect your thoughts, constructively shared, about the plan or the work, once we’ve all given it a try. I spend a lot of time thinking about what we are going to do in class; I LOVE to plan, so please don’t tell me how much you don’t like what we are doing before we even get going. It makes me sad. See #2.
  5. Do your work and do it yourself. Give it your best shot and turn work in on time. If I want you to investigate what other readers and critics have said about our book, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, I don’t care what they think; I care what you think. Plus, it makes me feel bad that you will spend all this time looking up other people’s ideas but not respect your own thinking and ideas. Finally, I hate having to spend time chasing down where you got ideas that are not yours. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. I won’t be happy about it. Neither will you in the end. See #2.
  6. Commit to this learning community. I really believe and come to class each day with the idea that we are making sense of things together. No individual in the room is as smart as the collective of the room. I will wrestle metaphorical alligators if it means we will figure something out. Please do not let me wrestle them alone. They are large. I’m more like a small or medium. See #2.
  7. Let’s not be super secret about the mistakes we make.  Please ask. And please let me notice habits about your work and share that back to you. I won’t ever do it in a way that aims to tear you down. Also, let me work with you in class without having to have secret conversations about how you like run-on sentences. We are in it together, so let’s just know what we each need to work on so we can do that work together. My mistakes will be public too.
  8. Join me in looking out for everyone.  I try to pay very close attention to each individual and to get to know both the group and the individuals. Let me be helpful. And, I won’t be able to notice everything. If you see someone needs an invitation to enter the discussion, you can be the one to make that invitation. If someone is having a tough time, extend yourself, let me know; I will too. Notice when someone does or says something really worth a shout-out and give the shout-out yourself. Neither all praise nor all correction should come from me.

9.  Come by my office or the makerspace to say hi. It’s not that we don’t have time to hear about all you interests in class, but we don’t have time. So, come chat with me about your favorite book, that game/concert/performance you are in, the show you love, your favorite kind of pie. I’m all ears, and I love a reason to put off answering emails.

I didn’t read it all out loud or try to talk about it in the moment. I put it on our class webpage and asked students to read it and come in the next day with questions. I teach seniors; I would do it differently if I taught 9th graders or was new to a department or school.

Then, as Ms. Ott did, I asked students to write me their own letters in response. Here are my directions.

Now it’s your turn. Write me a list of things I need to do to take care of you as an English student.  How can I be the best teacher ever to you? Tell me everything you can think of, and then throw a few extra things in for good measure.  Here are some basic requirements:

Should be 300 words minimum. 

Each item much have a 2-5 sentence explanation after it so that I know exactly what you mean.

Illustrations or other images are welcome but not required.

I received such useful, illuminating, funny, thoughtful, interesting comments in return. Here are a few highlights.

Keep it fun! I always love when a teacher loves what they are teaching. Just from the two classes we’ve had otgether I know that you love what we are talking about. Please keep your positive and exciting energy for class because it’s really nice to see!

Let me be creative/choose things: It’s obviously important and necessary to practice academic/analytical writing while in English class, but please include at least one or two projects where there is a relatively creative option, as this is a place where I excel and will guarantee my dedication to the project. If there is truly no room for a creative project, at least include one where there is a choice of prompts/mediums to give us a modicum of choice.

I’m a really big picture type of person. That is where I do my best work. But, finding evidence to back it up is where I struggle. I tend to need more help in this area.

One student spoke in the third person and told me that he/she was NOT a troublemaker and was likely to ‘dwell on the past mistake for an unnatural and even unhealthy amount of time. …and will continue to apologize profusely even aster things have been set right.”

Be reasonable…A teacher who doesn’t make a big deal if someone is talking out of turn–I do this a lot because I love participating but sometimes I get a little out of hand–and a teacher who listens to the feedback of the students and actually takes it into consideration. I consider myself a reasonable person, so I respond well to a reasonable teacher.

Collaboration: I want to be able to grow from the class and in order to do so I would love the opportunity to have guidance from you. This includes availablity to meet when I feel stuck or confused as well as telling me what I can do better to make the most out of the class.

I can be loud. One problem I have had over the years for me is my lack of a filter sometimes. Whether it is calling out, talking with friends, or lack of attention I can be disruptive. I have improved on this a lot but it still comes up now and again but I will be keeping an eye out for it to prevent it from happening as much as possible.

I get hungry. Simply for future notice, I was wondering if you allow students to eat in class. It varies from teacher to teacher and I did not want to eat it that is not something you allow in class. If you would prefer I do not eat, I totally understand and do not mind it.

Encouragement and Guidance: I admit that I like those science and math classes more because I prefer to think in that way. This sometimes causes me to be over cautious or prudent about everything in English class. With proper encouragement and guidance, I can do much better.

Say hi to me in the hallway. I am almost always happy to talk with someone one on one, so I am always ready to talk about anything and everything. I have also been known to come and talk to my teachers and stuff because I just enjoy the time.

So interesting, right? And that’s less than 10% of what I got.

I wrote notes and commentary on each list, made a copy of it for myself, and gave a copy (with commentary) back to students. I’ve looked back at these multiple times already.

I used to get to know my students so quickly when I taught in self-contained classrooms and spent hours a day with them. Now that I only see them once a day, it can seem like it takes such a long time to get to know students. This activity really helped. I will certainly be using it from now on.

So I’ve been thinking about doing student assignments again. I wrote about it a little while ago too.

This time I did the in-class writing for our summer reading book. The prompt is a little different than last year. The book is the same, but because I changed one of the essential questions for the course (it’s so much better now), changing the prompt a bit made sense as well. 

This is writing done in a single class period; students will have the topic in advance; they can come in with notes. We will spend an additional class period organizing thoughts and getting feedback on the initial idea. It’s not a surprise. However, I was wondering whether it really was too much to tackle in this one short assignment. My addition to the topic certainly makes it more interesting, but it also requires more thought.

I sat down to write the paper myself. I spent about a class period’s worth of time. Here’s what I discovered:

  • It’s a challenging topic and requires that students think not just about the book but about their personal experience with the book and how that experience is influenced by or connected to other reading experiences.
  • It’s also a reasonable topic that gives students room to move.
  • Although using evidence from the text will be important, referencing episodes or chapters may be more useful than actual direct quotations.
  • It made me clarify my own ideas more and get to more of a conclusion, even in the limited scope of this project. 
  • It also made me push my personal connections to the text in a way that ended up being surprising. I found connections to my other reading habits that I hadn’t thought about before.
  • I also realized that I did not organize my writing in the way that I said might be a good idea. A student had asked about a potential paragraphing strategy that I agreed would be an option, but I didn’t end up using that format.

So the next day I went to class. I put some process notes and guiding questions on the board for people to be working through with their planning. Then, I told the class that I had written the paper yesterday. I shared what I learned and how I ended up tackling the topic, always stressing that my plan was only one plan. I didn’t read them my paper, although I did share the gist of it and some personal connections I made. The class was pretty surprised. And in thinking about it later, it wasn’t just surprise, it was respect and feeling respected. 

I am reminded how much students appreciate me being a learner alongside them. I’m happy to share the fact that I am wrestling with the topic not only because it’s good work to do but also because I want to ensure that it’s work that is worth their time. They get that I might (or might not for some) read a lot more books than they do and that I get to set the syllabus, but they also appreciate and respond well to us being in it together. I can say we are a community of learners and are working on our collective understanding all I want. I can even write it down and pass it out. But if I’m not making my work visible, then my lovely ideas about community are just ideas. 

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

So, I’ve been thinking about the first day of school. It just happened. TODAY.

While there’s plenty to reflect on about first days, beginnings, etc, etc., I want to investigate the impact of the fact this fall semester class actually started asynchronously with summer reading. I don’t get to make a pitch for the book, to sell it, to set the stage. I got to share a brief introduction with some guiding questions on the summer reading list, but none of this was in person. Everyone reads, or doesn’t, on their own and then it’s a mystery until fall. We don’t meet in person; we didn’t check-in or send notes about our reading. Our first collective moment was this afternoon, even though we have been on this shared path for the entire summer.

Walking into class, it was a big unknown. Of course, we spent some time on class basics etc, but teaching seniors who know each other and have already had 5 other ‘first day classes’ earlier in the day, we got to talking about the book pretty quickly.

Many students, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was the overwhelming majority of students, immediately THANKED ME for choosing this book. I heard things like “this was the best summer reading book ever.” I am not making this up.

VICTORY!

Well didn’t that just set us up to have a great conversation?!

Then, at one point, a student said, “…I was talking to X about this part earlier today…” in reference to something we were talking about. I had to pause, hand on my heart, (almost tears in my eyes) and tell the class how happy it made me to hear that. I also had to tell everyone I ran into for the rest of the day.

However, besides just sharing my excitement, this little happy moment reinforces for me the idea that summer reading which is enjoyable, excites the readers, and gets people talking is the goal. It’s not the time to cram in one more everyone-should-read-this book. Since there are so many good books out there, I don’t have to choose something that isn’t worth reading or that doesn’t give us the opportunity to have complex and significant text-based discussions.

Plus, imagine the response to my next unit and book choice (a classic) when I have the social capital of having first put forward a crowd-pleaser? I’ve earned credibility as a good book picker; someone who is interested in texts that students like.

So, that’s it. I mostly just wanted to tell some more people about this. Bring on day 2.*

 

(*Yes, I have been teaching long enough to know that there are going to be ugly days. On those days, I’m going to remember this first day, because my students also earned my respect and goodwill today.)

So, I’ve been thinking about modeling thought and making it visible. I’ve always been a big fan of the mindmap, web, chart, whatever you want to call it. The less linear the better. My brain does not like a straight line (unless it’s the edge of a picture frame on the wall, and then I will make that things straight). But in thinking, straight lines are boring to me and lonely, nothing connected to it, all organized and cut off from other ideas.

And, I am ALWAYS trying to get my students to do the hard work of thinking about something before they write about it. Seems obvious that this would be a good idea, but it’s a tough sell in some situations. 

This past spring I decided to demonstrate, again, how I do this. My YA fiction class had finished the first unit of three books. I chose the books because they have things in common, talked specifically about those things in class, and was prepping everyone for writing a paper on that topic. However, students had the option to come up with their own topic.

Writing about multiple texts is not something we do a lot. It’s hard, and I think it’s not only worth doing but also more realistic in terms of mirroring the way people usually think about books. Whenever I ask students about a particular book, invariably a second or third book enters the conversation by way of comparison. So, I think it’s really important that we practice serious thinking and writing about that. It may not surprise you to know that there was some whining about this. In particular there was a lot of talk about how there wasn’t enough to say.  I kept encouraging more thinking rather than starting writing and continued to meet with some resistance.

I went home and decided to do what I was encouraging the students to do. I sat down and  started thinking about these three books and things that stood out to me. I didn’t want to plan an essay about a topic a student had already chosen, so I came up with something else that I actually had noticed as I we were talking about the books in class, but that we hadn’t been able to focus on much. I started one web what you see in the diagram in purple. (Follow along in the order with the gray numbers) I moved on to the second book and took more notes about the general topic. As I was thinking about it I realized there was a connection to the third book. Great! I jotted down some more notes. Finally on that diagram I added a question that I had that applied to all the texts. I kept going. Made a pretty straightforward list of commonalities, transferred that to more of a few sentences that began to form an idea. The last step was a draft of what might be able to be worked into a thesis statement. I spend maybe 20-30 minutes on this.

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I brought all of this to class the next day and showed it to my students piece by piece. I tried to recreate my thinking in words to go with the diagrams to model how the ideas evolved and grew. I wanted to show them that I didn’t have all these ideas before I start thinking; I came to the ideas through thinking. There was some silence and looking at the web and then one person said, “you made that look so easy.”

I’m so glad she said that because that was certainly not my intention. I wanted to make it look doable, I wanted to make it look productive, I wanted to make it look like the result of effort. My student’s comment gave me the opportunity to say yes I did put in time, but I didn’t spend a long time doing this,  and I think it will be so valuable and speed up the writing process because it gives me a road map of exactly where I am going. I tried to reiterate the fact that it’s not easy so much as it is the inevitable result putting in thinking time. 

I was also trying to show was that my ideas changed, that a bunch of stuff was going to get left on the cutting room floor, and that I got somewhere that was interesting to me. I could totally write about that! 

I’m not sure why my initial demonstration missed the mark, or even if it totally did. Certainly for some, the webbing is just too disorganized, which I can respect even if I don’t think that way. I will definitely do something similar again, maybe frame it a little differently. Any suggestions?

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.

CCO Creative commons image

So, I’ve been thinking about assessments. I worked really hard this year to develop assessments that addressed our essential questions, combined analytical and creative work, and pushed students to think.

I’ve already written about a brief research project where I used VoiceThread for the final, virtual presentations and the following installation art proposal project (more on that soon). But, here I want to describe two writing assignments that I think combined all the parts I mentioned above.

First up, my first-semester class (Fantasy literature with a focus on fantastic creatures, interdisciplinary approach). This paper was an early part of a larger project. We read most of The Odyssey and looked at images by a wide range of artists who interpreted Odysseus’ adventures, including Cy Twombly’s 50 Days at Ilium, a graphic novel interpretation by Seymour Chwast, and many works by Romare Bearden. Here’s what I asked students to do:

Think and Write:

  • How will you remember Odysseus in your personal, mental library? (look at the collection of epithets on the topics page) What characteristic stands out to you?
  • Which fantastic creature stands out and is particularly memorable to you? Why?
  • Who are your people* and how do your Odysseus and your fantastic creature speak to them?

No more than 800 words, a few, short quotes are a must. Share link to final draft in this chart. Read what your classmates wrote! (100 points) (Rubric)

(*This is based on the following from author Neil Gaiman “Mythologies tell us about being human. They are glorious; they are timeless. They need to be retold. . . When you’re retelling stories, you’re retelling them for your people.”)

I initially thought of this as something different to do with a text that was very familiar to them (many read a middle-grade version in 5th grade and almost all were familiar with many of the individual episodes). Since Odysseus is one of those characters who people tend to remember in some shorthand way, I thought it would be interesting for students to take a conscious look at something that we do unconsciously. And, considering how that choice of how to remember this character might be related to their own personalities seemed like an excellent option for seniors in the midst of writing college essays.

It was interesting to me that students found it difficult to make the personal connection between their choice of how to identify and remember Odysseus (the wily Odysseus, the old warrior etc) and themselves. It was hard for them to see that their choice perhaps said something about who they are or what they appreciate. Since I knew the students quite well, it was pretty easy for me to connect the dots. The dots appeared like lighted runway arrows to me. Most of the group ultimately found some connections, and they were amused to find that many of the connections were not that tricky to identify, although a few just totally could not or would not go to any personal reflection. I think that combining the analytical and the personal was a novel experience, and they were uncertain about leaping in.

In the second semester the course, still English with an interdisciplinary approach, focussed on fantastic places in literature. One of our texts was Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It is the story of Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan about the cities in his empire. However, each city may actually be based on Venice or Marco Polo’s imagination. Each city is described in a few paragraphs or a few pages and is grouped into one of nine categories. The students had never read anything like it.

My assignment description was the following:

Post Invisible Cities writing project

This is NOT a research paper. Do NOT search for or use any other sources (criticism, reviews, wikipedia, etc). This is your own deep investigation of a piece of this text.

Part 1: Analysis of a collection of city passages (choose whichever topic you wish)

  • Formulate an original idea about these passages.
  • Analyze the passages, explain your notion of their identity, use quotations, etc
  • ~1100-1200 words (no more than 1250)
  • Assessed as a typical analytical paper (see English department general rubric on bulletin board)
  • Worth 50% of total points

Part 2: Creative descriptions of the place you chose

  • Write 2 short descriptions of your location in the style of the theme you analyzed
  • You do not need to imitate Calvino, but do use his writing as a model
  • Each one should be 250-350 words
  • Worth 25% of total points

Part 3: Connecting the dots Commentary

  • A commentary or reflection on your own writing and analysis
  • How have these two parts (analytical and creative) informed each other
  • 400-500 words
  • Worth 25 % of total points

Total points=200

All parts should be in one document. A simple row of asterisks can be used to indicate a move to the next section. No need to label the parts.

Although this description of word count and points makes it seem like this assignment was very rigid, there was A LOT of room to move within these boundaries. The book itself is hard to get a grip on so having so very set specifics for the writing was a good anchor. And, to spread out the work, we had worked on the descriptions of place a bit in advance.

The final products here were very successful, in my opinion, in that they pieces each contributed to the whole. I can’t imagine understanding any of the student’s thinking without all the pieces. In some ways, the commentary was the most valuable. By that point in the assignment, the student had done the thinking, analyzing, writing, and editing. For many, it was the place where everything came together the most succinctly. It also gave me some insights into the student’s process and intentions with the creative writing, in case they could not quite carry off what they intended. We talked about this quite a bit in class, and I wrote the creative pieces as well. I shared that my pieces were certainly more heavy-handed than Calvino’s in terms of the themes I wanted to get across. But I also reminded the group that Calvino is a pro; it’s ok for him to be better at this and it’s ok for us to try to copy some of his writer moves (as long as we say that is what we are doing). In giving them that permission, I got back all kinds of careful observation notes and comments about the writer moves each of them was trying. Plus, with the different parts of the assignment, there was something for everyone.

So, what I learned is that combining the analytical and the more creative or personal leads to good thinking, solid writing, and quality engagement from the students. Plus, the final products were interesting to read. Victory!