Over the past few months, I have posted different pedagogical approaches that I have implemented in the classroom from the elevator pitch in the composition classroom to the use of archival materials in the literature classroom. Today, I want to take the moment and expand upon a couple of projects that I have used in the literature classroom.
A few years ago, I taught a course entitled “The City in American Literature: New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.” For the course, students were placed into groups of three-four, and each group had to a wiki on an assigned text. Some students did well, and others struggled. However, thinking about the project as a whole, the ways that students used Web 2.0 tools assisted them in collaboratively working together to help their fellow students understand the materials that we covered in class. Angela Laflen trumpets the role of wikis in the literature classroom. She says, “wikis can help students to more concretely understand issues related to textual authority because the content on a wiki is fluid and because wikis make visible the recursive writing process that sometimes goes unseen in literature courses” (59). Through the construction of collaborative wikis, students see the process of constructing a text or product for an audience–me, their classmates, and possibly the general public.
Along with the wiki, I have done blogs in the literature classroom. For this assignment, I set up a Blogger site and had students sign up. I made sure the site was set to private so only the students in the class could see their classmates’ posts. I required students to make four posts on the blog (about every two weeks) throughout the course of the semester, and they had to respond to other posts every two weeks (for a total of 8 responses). For the first two posts, I provided students with discussion questions to answer based on the readings we had covered in class. Typically, multiple students presented the same information. However, this helped them get accustomed to the blog as a space to share ideas not just with me but with other students as well. For the last two posts, I did not provide students with prompts. In response, the students’ posts expanded and interesting discussions arose based on the texts being covered.
This semester, I am having students work in pairs to create posts on Tumblr. Tumblr, while you can edit posts, is more like a blog where the post exists as a finished product. Even with this “finality,” Tumblr calls upon students to consider an audience outside of me as the instructor. It requires them to think about how they want to present the material, and themselves, to their peers and the Internet as a whole. (Note: Like the blog, I am keeping the Tumblr private. I have told students that I will leave it up to them if they want to share their information with others. If so, I will make the Tumblr groups public so other students and teachers can use what they create.)
Students, for their projects, must choose a term for a list of about sixteen concepts, historical events, or cultural products related to American literature pre-1865. Each group must provide three items on the Tumblr:
- Define the concept, historical event, or cultural product
- Find two academic sources and summarize each one, discuss each one’s strengths and weaknesses, and discuss how each source relates to what we have read and discussed in class
- Provide an overall discussion of how the term and sources relate to other texts and concepts we have discussed in class throughout the semester
I purposefully left the assignment open for the students. I do not give them word or page limits, opening it up to their creativity. I do not know, yet, how this will turn out; however, when speaking with groups yesterday during class, I am excited to see what the students do here. One group mentioned that they are thinking about creating a Twitter account for a person who may have gone through an historical event. On the Twitter account, the “character” would tweet about the event, sources, and their relationship to the rest of the class. This sounds ingenious, and I hope they do something like this. Another group, that consists of a theater major, asked about doing a skit. This is why I eschewed setting something like word limits for students they can draw upon their reservoir of knowledge and creativity.
On the final two days of class, each group will present their information to their peers. This project may be one of the teacher fail moments that writers on the Pedagogy & American Literary Studies site talked about last week. I pray that is not the case, but it could be. It could be a situation where some students excel and others struggle, as is the case with most assignments. Hopefully, it will cause students to think about the product(s) they produce, making them realize that others could use their products to help students at other schools. For me, this would be an amazing outcome for the project.
In conclusion, a word needs to be said about what I do to help students understand the ways they can tackle the project. To do this, I recorded a short video on my phone of my son and I walking in the woods. After recording the footage, I wrote out a brief script where I described how various authors we have read view the wilderness. Using iMovie, I recorded myself reading the script and placed it underneath the video. Finally, I added a couple of music clips to add ambiance. This process took me maybe thirty minutes. When I finished, I uploaded the video and pictures of my script to Tumblr with an explanation describing what I did for the students. Along with this upload, I provided students with a textual annotated bibliography of a source. By creating these items, I show students what they can do and also what is expected of them to complete the project. This does not mean they have to do a video. They can, if they would like, fill the Tumblr with text, as long as they present the information required.
How many of you have done something like this in your class? As usual, let me know in the comments below how it went, what works, and what didn’t work.
Laflen, Angela. “Putting Wikis to Work in the Literature Classroom.” Modern Language Studies 43:1 (Summer 2013): 54-77.