It seems like some of my best lessons and most successful classroom activties strike at times when I'm less concerned about a perfect and tidy plan and more focused on student needs and engagement. It seems simple and obvious enough, but adjusting my "work barometer" is something I'm always trying to finetune.
Last week my AP Literature students worked hard at reading, interpreting, and analyzing poetry. It was the kind of week that felt like a great workout -- challenging and a little uncomfortable, but valuable and motivating because you're getting leaner and stronger.
Each day, we took on a new poem. To kick of the new year, we studied a beautiful poem called "At the New Year" by Kennth Patchen. We then went "down the vista of [our own] years" with D.H. Lawrence's "The Piano." And after several student requests for "animal poems" (they're cool kids, what can I say?) we took a look at the wonderful and Zen "Golden Retrievals" by Mark Doty and the fiercely self-aware hawk of "Hawk Roosting" by Ted Hughes.
By the end of the week, students' increasing confidence in poetry analysis was palpable. So on a welcome 2-hour delay Friday morning, I thought it best we hit the brakes and play for a day.
Here's what we did.
I asked students to create a structure or sculpture that extended, supported, or highlighted an INSIGHT they had about ONE of the poems they studied during the week.
The goal was for students to revisit, re-read, and deepen their understanding of one of the poems from class and to use manipulaitves and play as "a way in" to their insights, interpretations, and analysis.
After that, we broke out the hand sanitizer and a big bucket of toys and got to work.
Here are some highlights of student work:
After time was up and all students had completed the task, I asked students to complete a Quickwrite Journal explaining and unpacking their thinking and choices in creating their structures or sculptures. Some questions I asked:
Besides the excited and bubbling "This is so fun!" from students, the best part of this purposeful play: Students were invested in learning and discovering more about the texts -- I heard thoughtful conversations and read thoughtful commentary about the poetry we studied. So...
WVCTE is wondering...
What does purposeful play look like in your classrooms? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Karla Hilliard teaches STEAM Academy Honors English 10 and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She's a contributing writer on www.movingwriters.org and a teaching fellow with Collaborative for Student Success. When Karla isn't teaching, you can find her hanging with her husband and two little girls.
Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE. See what's happening in her classroom at www.hilliardsclass.com or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.
By Tina M. Rantanen
At the end of each unit I like to explore what the students learned by letting them to use their artistic sides. This gives them another way to express what they have learned in addition to the discussing and writing we have done throughout the unit. I realize that some students are like myself and can’t draw very well, so I try to give them alternative ways to be creative and expressive. Over the years I have used two of the following examples.
Figurative Language Illustration
I love teaching Night every year with my freshmen. The book is poignant and short. Most of the students find it interesting and very different from Anne Frank that many were exposed to during eighth grade. When we have finished reading, we go back through the book and find examples of figures of speech. We specifically look for hyperbole, irony, metaphors, metonymy, paradox, personification, and similes. Then I ask them to pick one to illustrate on a large sheet of paper or poster board. I tell them the more creative they are the better! Over the years I have received some amazing projects. If possible, I take pictures of the projects and then post them to the school’s website. Students are then able to share their projects with family and friends. I have used this with other books like The Things They Carried. The projects turned out just as creative and interesting.
Not Your Typical Character Sketch
Of Mice and Men is another favorite of mine and the students usually enjoy it as well. After we have finished reading, I put them into random groups. I like groups of four the best, but 3 or 5 work also. I have each group pick a card that has the name of one of the characters on it. I use 8 characters, but I take out some of them for smaller classes. Each student receives a piece of copy paper where they have to draw what they think their character looks like. Next, as a group they pick who draws the best features to put on the final copy. They also choose a quote that they think embodies their character the best. Then, they are given a large sheet of paper. Each person in the group must draw some aspect of the character. They have to color it, and include the quote. Finally, as a group they share their project with the class explaining what each person contributed, and why they chose the quote. These are displayed in the classroom for all to enjoy.
Whose Phone Is This?
I have tried several final projects with Romeo and Juliet. My current favorite is one that I tried for the first time last year. A colleague shared it with me. It is called “Whose Phone Is This?” Each student is given a sheet with the opening screen of a cell phone on it. They are asked to sketch the wallpaper of the character that they chose and color it. They have to explain why the image would appeal to their character. Next, they have to write two emails that the character would have received from other characters in the story. Finally, they have to write three song titles with artists’ names that would likely be on the character’s song list. They also have to explain why they choose those particular songs. (I admit that I only knew about half of the songs.) However, if the explanations were sufficient, I didn’t have to be familiar with the song. The reasons that the students used were the best part of the assignment. In most cases it really showed their upper level thinking skills. I will use this activity again, and it can be used with many different stories.
So WVCTE is wondering…
What types of final projects do you use in your classroom? And how can you use and adapt this lesson for your own classroom? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Tina M. Rantanen teaches English 9H, 12H and English 12 at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV. This is her twentieth year of teaching and she loves the difference between her freshmen and seniors each year. She is a member of the newly formed WVCTE and is the English Department Chair at Spring Mills High School.