Friday, June 13, 2014

The Breakfast Club, The Truman Show & Summer School

This summer I'm teaching a summer school course called Pre-College Composition. I was under the impression that this course was to help students get ahead.  To help them prepare for collegiate writing and the expectations of English departments at major universities.

Turns out... I was wrong.  The majority of the students are credit recovery.  The dreaded credit recovery.  How one can be in a credit recovery course to prepare for collegiate writing is beyond me.  It sounds a little oxymoronic.  I felt like I was walking into The Breakfast Club... 

I haven't taught high school in a year and haven't taught summer school in four years so it has been a bit of an adjustment.

Anyway, I came in with the grand plan to show students what it is like to take a college English course.  They were going to collaborate and explore writing in ways they probably hadn't in high school courses previously.  Needless to say, that didn't happen as planned.  

It took me a little while to wrap my head around the concept of what I needed to do versus what I wanted or hoped to do.

So today I tried something different.  I played a movie.  No, not for the sake of watching a movie (which I secretly wanted to do) but for learning purposes.  You see I was assigning them a critical analysis essay anyway.  Initially they were going to research a few articles and compare/contrast rhetorical devices that the author employed.  I figured, hey let's have just fun learning these skills and do something interesting!

So here's what I did:
1.  We watched The Truman Show but beforehand I had students journal about three important quotes from the film: 
  • We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.
  • For God's sake, Chris!  The whole world is watching.  We can't let him die in front of a live audience!
  • We've become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions.  We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects.  While the world he inhabits is, in some respects counterfeit, there's nothing fake about Truman himself.  No scripts, no cue cards.  It isn't always Shakespeare, but it's genuine.  It's a life.
2.  Students filled out a worksheet during the film.  The worksheet asked questions that would lead to their essay.  Basically it was a way to jot down information so that they wouldn't forget specifics come essay time.

3.  I had students begin drafting their essay using Google Docs. The essay required them to turn the quote of their choice into a question. For example one of the quotes could be phrased as: "But do we really have to accept the world with which we are presented?". Students then chose two examples from the film that answered the question for Truman.  They followed those two analysis paragraphs up with a conclusion on what they had learned... a "Perhaps Statement."  Since, each student was writing their essay on Google Docs, they shared their essay with me.  While each of them was drafting I would read and write comments on their drafts... simultaneously... yes on all 18 students' essays at once.

So what happened??
Unbelievably it went well!  They really enjoyed it.  I would write comments and questions on their drafts and highlight corresponding areas.  If students had questions, they would reply on the comment.  I ended up having several chats on student essays without them having to actually ask me for help.  Most importantly....

Students felt more comfortable asking me questions online.

None of them called me over to take a look.

Instead, they said, "Hey, Miss.  Can you check mine?".  I would read their question, that particular section of their essay, and type a response.

So should you try it??
Absolutely.  I highly suggest doing this in your classroom.  It's especially good for differentiation.  I have various levels in this course: seniors who are preparing themselves for college, seniors with credit recovery, sophomores preparing themselves for American Literature, and juniors with credit recovery.  I also have quite a few ELL students.  With all of this combined, this synchronous collaboration and discussion on Google Docs allowed me to help each individual student at their own level...and I have an electronic record of what we discussed so I won't forget!

Please give it a try and let me know how it goes.  As always, if you found this post helpful or enlightening, please like and share!