Monday, January 01, 2007

Open thoughts on my next Lit Circles unit...

Been thinking about how I want to proceed with my next unit, which I'm calling "Alienation & Isolation." Right now it consists of students choosing from one of three novels - Frankenstein, The Color of Water, and Black Boy. The introductory portion is complete, which we'll do before midterms start in mid-January.

Now I want to take a page from Beyond School and do a unit think-aloud. My thoughts are leading me towards again experimenting with a classroom wiki as part of the student writing. It's still sketchy and rough, but as always, I'd love to hear some feedback, comments, suggestions. So here goes...

It begins as an extension of the active reading introductory portion: Each student will choose which title they would like to read, and I'm going to encourage those who are thinking about taking honors English in 11th grade to strongly consider tackling Frankenstein as a way to better acclimate them to a difficult text, which they will face in honors next year. (Sophomore English at Branford High School is completely heterogeneous, but we are developing an honors option for next year.) Despite their obvious differences, the three titles do share thematic elements, most notably a central character who struggles to forge an identity in an often hostile world. In the case of both Black Boy and The Color of Water, that hostility is mostly the result of racial divisions and prejudice. Those two titles are memoirs which relate the life stories of the two author/main characters - James from Color of Water and Richard from Black Boy - who often feel marginalized, or even in extreme cases, like a monster in their world, an outsider in an unaccepting society. That, too, is a dominant theme of Frankenstein. However, there is much more to Frankenstein, and that's not to say the students who chose that will not be able to explore those issues.

The day to day lessons will be organized according to a Literature Circle model. It's the assessment piece that I'm hung up on. As a way to showcase and share their learning, I would like the students to collaborate on a wiki that explores our central theme - Alienation & Isolation. A possibility for guiding or essential questions could be What do humans need to feel connected to their world? How does society help forge our identity? How do individuals figure out who they are?

To build on the skills from a previous wiki writing project, the students could address the themes of alienation and acceptance as they see them in their novels. Each Literature Circle group could be responsible for maintaining a wiki page with information from their in-class discussions, quotes from the novel, and other textual references. It should probably be organized in some manner, possibly under dual headings of alienation and isolation. Students would be responsible for tracing those themes throughout the novel, how they progress and eventually are resolved. Embedded in this would be an analysis of human nature and what the author's ideas are relating to alienation and isolation on the human soul.

Next, each group would research a particular modern day social issue that relates to one or more of the big ideas raised in the novel and represents an issue in today's society. I may suggest possibilities for further research - institutional racism, affirmative action, poverty, cloning, embryonic research... Information on these topics could be incorporated into the wiki on the novel.

I'm starting to feel myself getting hazier and hazier with my ideas. As a relative newcomer to the world of wikis and blogs, I want to experiement with the latest technology, but I don't want to use it for the sake of using it.
I'm stuck.
Maybe this would be a place to assign a good old-fashioned essay? Maybe the wiki is an excellent tool in this case for merely extending their daily discussions - with less imposed structure from me - rather than as a summative assessment of the unit? The wiki would serve as a solid resource for students as they write their papers.
I think I'm going to stop now and mull it over in between grading.

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