The nervous rush of what your mom and dad will think when they read your new homework assignment for English class can be terrifying. It’s often why students no longer share their writing with their parents; also, it was the same reason why I didn’t want my parents to be the ones who taught me how to drive when I was 16. It’s scary to hear criticism from them. What if what we do is not good enough? On the other hand, writing for your teacher can also quickly lose its shine, not long after the leaves turn colour in the fall and winter marches forward with an imposing doom. Rather than hoping to impress a teacher with creativity or risk taking, a student might become solely motivated by the end result: what’s my grade?
As I prepare for a new term, I have the opportunity to get a clean slate with a new set of students in my Gr. 12 English class. This term, I’ll be moving from teaching largely non-fiction to short stories. I’m excited by the possibilities this presents and hopeful that I can address the following challenges:
- Will writing for an authentic audience improve student motivation and, ultimately, the final product?
- How can I encourage students to embrace the value of critical feedback?
Here is my Plan:
a) students will create interview questions regarding short fiction: what makes a story a ‘classic’? What is appealing to different audiences? Are there themes that are more relevant to today’s audience than ever before?
b) Working collaboratively with a Gr. 6 teacher at my school, the grade 12 students will interview their younger peers and get a sense of what makes a good story, what matters to them as an audience, what don’t they like, etc.
c) the Gr. 12 students will create a “story pitch”, much like a writer might pitch a story to a movie studio, for the grade 6 students. Some story ideas will get a green light, some story ideas will not.
d) Gr. 12 students will choose one of their story ideas that were approved and write a draft, hopefully incorporating ideas regarding characterization, imagery, and plot that will be discussed in relation to some core texts. Once completed, they will share their drafts with their younger counterparts (via Google docs, perhaps).
e) the younger students will give critical feedback to the Gr. 12’s in the form of video or comments in a doc. Gr. 12 students will be required to respond to the feedback and make changes as needed.
f) the Gr. 6 students will create artwork for the stories during their art class. Eventually, the final product (story + artwork) will be brought together in the form of an iBook that can be used as a short story anthology for next year’s Gr. 6 class (and as an exemplar for future Gr. 12 Short Story students)
Challenges: I ask myself is this as auspicious of an Action Plan as I would like it to be? Should I be aiming bigger than a single project? Secondly, should I perhaps be using a shared blog for the Gr. 12 students to write their stories and share that blog with the Gr. 6 students; would that be a more effective communication tool, rather than the interview sessions?
I hope to measure the success of my action plan by having students complete a Google Form evaluation tool, through regular conferences during the writing process, and by a qualitative assessment of enthusiasm: are the kids motivated to impress their younger peers?
Only time will tell. Please feel free to send suggestions and critical feedback on this plan, as it will go into action in two weeks!