Thursday, May 26, 2011

(Re)Vamping the Curriculum: Unconference Dracula!

So started today's 'unconference' of Dracula - my B Period's fantastic third round of this format in our English classroom. Working off of the successes and failures of Day #1 and Day #2, we used an hour and a half block to run a compelling student-driven conference about Dracula's implications and connections within the text and to today's world.

What students walked in with:
- most if not all of the novel Dracula read
- 15-20 pages of notes (compiled as they read and in class)
- a title / notes to lead a session
- two previous days of scaffolded 'unconference' style class

What I walked in with: 
- a box o' Joe & munchkins
- printer labels for nametags
- nervous anticipation

What we did:

Made the schedule:
Students used my computer, the classroom computer, and Greg Kulowiec's computer to real-time sign up for their sessions. I kept the schedule projected through the period so everyone could preview where they wanted to go to. One student wanted to know if they could propose two sessions! A couple of more found they had common sessions so decided to combine them. See below for the full schedule. I relished the role of organizing the desks and eavesdropping on my students craft session titles and plan which they were going to attend - the momentum had definitely already shifted to a student-run conference!

I introduced the purpose of the day, encouraged everyone to help themselves to coffee and donuts, and outlined how the sessions would work. Mr. Kulowiec explained what the 'Smackdown' looks like in an Ed Camp conference, giving something exciting to look forward to at the end of the period. Greg's excitement was an integral part of the day, especially as the kids started to see this was bigger than just my vision for them (the live tweeting and public google doc definitely opened some eyes).

And they were off! Everyone chose a session and organized desks in corresponding area of the room. The level of vibrant conversation, provoking connections, and brilliant analysis was so authentic, I couldn't believe so much was happening with so little 'done' on my part. Students wrote furiously, considering each other's point of view, challenging each other, and referring back to the text. Only once or twice was I asked to be the 'expert,' showing a greater comfort in each other as resources and the teacher as facilitator instead of source of knowledge.

Visitors (or, icing on the cake):
Other teachers and administrators came in and out, joined conversations, asked questions, all at various familiarity with the text. These extra faces added a completely different level of engagement as students talked to us as peers instead of authority figures. Mr. Kulowiec and Mr. Stanton, both history teachers, offered connections and insights across time periods and to Osama bin Laden (our other case study of demonization). Even the principal walked through, later asking "what was going on in there, the kids were so involved." A fellow English teacher, Erik Walker, made it in time for the Smackdown, where he saw the threads of his unit-opening fin de siecle lecture woven through the students' responses and insights.

I pulled everyone together, we fixed the desks, and the Smackdown began! Scroll down to read the ideas, questions, comments, and theories from the queued students, each reflecting the best from the day's sessions. I couldn't believe that students would be so willing to 'public speak' - the beast they actively avoid the rest of the year - some even going up two or three times! Students kept writing down more ideas, even though it was the last four minutes of an hour and a half long class, and kids were awe-struck to see the google doc 'is viewing' guests increase as we live-streamed the smackdown ideas. What an invigorating way to 'flip' the traditional report-out / take away / ticket-to-leave...

In conclusion: 
The 'unconference' format was highly successful for many reasons, but primarily due to the class scaffolding and requirements, individual student preparation, and participant enthusiasm. Without any of those, it wouldn't have been nearly as successful (though I'm sure the caffeine and donuts didn't hurt). Next year, I want to plan 'unconferences' at the middle and/or end of units, and hope to make them events that students look forward to (one student wore his Dracula t-shirt for today, and many didn't take their nametags off all day!). One of my students said it best when he commented that "this was one of the best classes of the entire year." I completely agree, and so I'll spend the summer searching for an alternative name to 'unschool' to welcome my students with next fall.

B Period Students
Mr. Kulowiec
Mr. Stanton
Mr. Walker
Ms. Whittle
Mrs. Fry

Please leave a comment or question below for me or my students!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Interdisc: Outlining Your Story

This week, you have to outline your story. Read the following to help you make your outline. Mr. Fust and I will be looking at them during D and E period the day they are due. By checking before 'class,' we will be able to talk to you during class and help you shape your ideas.

Based on what you have read so far, you should have chosen a character to use in your story. In your HD notebook, you have started to compile 'research' on this character - for example: things they say, do, think, look like and the effects on others. This research will make it easy for you to write your own story, as this character is already constructed for you!

You have also been doing historical research on the time period in which your book was written. This research should help you choose what 'big ideas' will be at play in your story: individual, group, power, control, fear, society, government, etc. What problems does the book deal with, and why did the author want you thinking about them? Choose one or two 'big ideas' that you want to focus on with your character. Which ones have interested you the most as we have read this year?

Now, choose a unit we have studied this year in History. Think of one that you were interested in and would like to learn more about. Get out your Year-Long Term Sheet and choose terms (5-10 would give you a good brainstorming range) that could connect to your 'big idea' - which ones connect directly, and which ones could connect indirectly?

Writing Your Story
This is where you can get creative - is your story suspensful? mysterious? comical? ironic? clever? Based on how you have combined your three 'pieces' you will start to shape a story that ties together why we even think about the ideas, characters, and events that we have this year. This is your opportunity to shine! Mr. Fust and I are so excited to have worked with you all year - we can't wait to help you shape your final story - good luck and have fun!

To Do: 
1. Read through this post
2. REQUIRED: Comment on how well you understand this post, and any questions you have
2. Below is the the outline survey - fill it out BY 'e' period of the day you have it due

Friday, May 13, 2011

(Re)Vamping the Curriculum: Dracula Day #2

Here's our board - and the three 'spots' where we meet. Fifteen minute time slots give the groups enough time to read through and discuss their questions.

Converging to organize and group their questions! 

Considering the board...

Off to his session!

Answering their classmates' post-it questions.

Feedback: zoom in to see what different students said

Next class:
- work on asking different types of questions
- address concerns about being in different places of the book - 'it ruins it'
- consider asking for a 'group leader' to give feedback at transition time (or, some sort of 'smackdown' at end of period to bring 'ideas of the day' together)

- silent reading as one session and use this as format to explore different aspects of the text (one-class version of this unit)
- sort sessions by thesis statements rather than questions
- how to integrate into a College Prep course? (this is a motivated Honors class)
- how effectively merge this process into final assessment? So that they become dependent on each other?

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