Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(Re)Vamping the Curriculum: Dracula Day #1

In the spirit of EdCampBoston, and building off of a conference-style Fahrenheit 451 unit, I decided to take a dive and set up an Un-Conference Dracula. Today was the first day - it was a fascinating learning experience as a teacher, and I can't wait for the next 12 days of class.

- 10th Grade Honors class
- previous unit, each student was assigned a 'session' they had to run based on Fahrenheit 451 - Students chose pre-determined titles ranging from "Montag's Chase" "Obsession with Image in 2011" and "What's So Important about Dover Beach?"
- Students were expected to be experts on their topic and lead a small discussion during a determined class period
    On the whole, a success, but the students tended to speak for five minutes and then sit awkwardly - not the dynamic discussion I was anticipating

    Prep for Dracula:
    - Students wrote a short story with Osama bin Laden as a vampire, listened to a lecture on fin de siecle, and received their books last week. They finished Ch 1-4 for Monday, and we spent Monday talking about the beginning of the book.
    - Monday night's homework was to make a personal reading schedule, with all students finishing the book for May 27th.
    - Yesterday, I outlined the three part assessment of the unit:
    • * Evolution of their initial short story to reflect current social anxieties in the same way Dracula reflected the demonization of the Other
    • * Class construction of a 'narrative' of the War on Terror - number of 'artifacts' to be determined
    • * 20 pages of notes as we read

    Today! Making the Schedule, or, "Ms. Kennett, it's ambitious..."
    - On the white board, I made a 3x3 grid and wrote the three time 'sessions' and asked if this would work or if we should do two sessions. There was an awkward silence, and one of my students made the comment from above. I welcome the dialogue to explore why I set up class the way I do (it usually means I haven't explained my purpose effectively) and the following list of concerns surfaced:
    - leading discussion – fear
    - having things to talk about
    - nervous about being the expert
    - we're all going to be on different pages
    - class being spread too thin if too many discussions
    - want to work in partners
    - what if no one shows up to a discussion
    - 20 pages is a lot

      In general, I sensed they were uncomfortable with this format because it was new and because it put them all in the spotlight. One student said to me that "it would have worked better with your big conference Ms. Kennett, because you all have something to say and you bring different things to the conversation" - I responded by saying that's exactly the dynamic I was searching for in this class!

      I asked why they thought I was doing this unit, and some who saw my vision piped up
      - you want us to independently think
      - you want us in charge of our own learning
      - you want us to run our own group work

        At this point, someone piped up and said "well we're going to do it how you want it anyway, so I don't know why we're discussing" which let me explain that I wanted to shift the class dynamic away from me leading the discussion to them learning and teaching themselves, and that wasn't going to happen if they didn't do it for themselves.

        What I did at that point:
        - put three topics on the board (Dracula, J.H. (Jonathon Harker), Other)
        - handed out post-its and asked students to write a thought-provoking question they had from the first four chapters
        - groups went to 'spot' in room based on their question topic of choice
        - the groups ran themselves and all took notes (working toward their 20 pages)
        - inconspicuously touched base with each group, listening and answering questions when needed

        Wrap-up Reflection:
        The Good
        + liked that you had a smaller group to talk to
        + easy to take notes on what everyone is saying
        + everyone could talk more
        + everyone was interested in a different part and knew it better so they could add
        + going to be easier to do the 20 pages than I thought
         The Stressed
        - I don’t like that there’s not a ‘right’ answer
        - What if I miss something that's happening in the group over there?
        - I like hearing you talk about it
        The Take Away
        Overall, after seeing it in action, my resistant students absolutely felt more comfortable with what it was, the ideas seemed significantly less scary, and I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow!

        Final Notes Looking at Day:
        Problems with roll-out:
        - intimidating that one person has to take lead
        - hopefully post-its will ease initiation
        - as groups see what they have in common, more ideas are bound to cross
        - ease up on time restraints?
        - Will even distribution (about 6 per group) get smaller as people get more comfortable?
        - Will time become more fluid as conversations naturally grow? (or still set sessions?)
        Future Classes:
        - give post-it when students come in
        - send to board and let them group themselves

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