I dreamt up a new challenge for the freshmen, and all of it will be shared online. It is the first time I have approached an assignment this way. Students will have temporary blogs where they will share the nine parts of a project encompassing the five novels we have read so far this semester: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, My Antonia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Outsiders.
On Friday I revealed the assignment's directions so the students will be able to come to class on Monday, grab a computer, and get to work for the next two weeks. They will also need to work outside of class to meet all of the requirements. I asked the students to read the entire set of directions before asking any questions aloud. When it was time to answer their questions, the inevitable "Why?" came up. Well, there are many reasons why.
After the initial anxiety wears off, I hope the students look closely to see what they would have missed if they had not completed this project. I'm asking the students to find pre-1900 poetry that connects to the novels in some way. This will expose the students to literature they search for on their own, but more importantly,this will help students practice their thinking and communicating skills by sharing the connections between the novels and the poems. To counter the past, I want the students to find current (as in happened during the month of November 2011) news that reflects the issues that are found in the novels we have read. Stories change, but conflicts humans face will always occur. It's one of the reasons we read literature--to reflect on the causes and effects of human experiences. Poetry, news and novels have much in common despite their varied purposes. Toss in a Works Cited, along with some well-written explanations, and the students are on their way to communicating complex thoughts in writing. To balance all of that written work, I want the students to create a collage of pictures and then analyze what the images from the five novels reveal about their similarities and differences. There are other parts to the project--explaining allusions, writing book reviews, and determining whether or not each book can be classified as a bildungsroman-- that will enable students to practice reading, writing, critical thinking, and researching, but they will also practice the life skills of time management, organization, following directions, and communicating with more than just the teacher.
When this project is all said and done on November 21st, I hope the students will know that there is not one right way to fulfill this task. I also hope that the students will share their blogs with their classmates, so all can see the unique fingerprints students leave on the assignments they complete.
The students have asked me to complete this project too, but I can't start until Monday the 7th(their rules). They seem to think the task is so impossible that even I won't be able to complete in the time allotted. But I already know they can do it. Cheers to this project merging so much more than literature.