There is creative reading as well as creative writing.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the second half of the semester, I open my storytelling class to greater student choice and control. This could be intensely dangerous considering the class is populated with students with eyes fixed firmly on graduation.
I operate under the assumption greater choice and control will help make our class relevant.
The guiding questions for the assignment I rolled out today are simple:
- What is a text you connect with strongly?
- What causes that connection?
- How can you help the class understand that connection?
I suppose anyone else in a class about story would collect a set of stories from the Western Literary Canon and proceed with the indoctrination.
They’ll have college for that.
My goal is more to work toward the type of deeply curious conversations about texts that will equip them with the tactics to pull apart those dusty canonical behemoths later on.
The assignment is simple:
- Pick a text that means something to you. Prep a whole-class discussion that will help us all learn more about the text.
- For the purposes of the assignment, I put myself in the role of Mr. Chase as English student rather than Mr. Chase as English teacher.
Students are responsible for preparing copies, online materials or video clips as necessary. They must also prepare pre- and during-reading activities to prep their peers (and me) for at least 30 minutes discussion.
Last year’s initial launch of this assignment brought some amazing moments.
For almost an entire class period we debated the appropriateness, theme, and intended audience of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
In another discussion, the debate over the narrative structure of OneRepublic’s “Say (All I Need)”.
Aside from checking in with students to make certain they’re finding texts and offering suggestions for planning their discussions, I stay out of things as much as possible.
I know the texts, but I haven’t read many of them.
There’s an element of trust there, I suppose.
It’s why I ask that the texts be important to the students sharing them.
“If you bring in something you don’t care about, it’s more likely that we won’t either.”
This is likely why I have such trouble teaching The Great Gatsby.
Some early possibilities this year include an excerpt from the film version of For Colored Girls, a cross-medium analysis of a quotation from The Kite Runner, deconstruction of Hamlet’s most famous of soliloquies and a Rage Against the Machine song.
Aside from Hamlet, these will be texts with which I am largely unfamiliar. While this adds an air of novelty to the process, the greater benefit is my not having a preconceived notion of how a discussion should play out. I’m learning along with the rest of the class.
This year’s iteration of the assignment includes one major adjustment. Aside from the 30-minute minimum, the students and I are building the assessment criteria for the discussions together.
Before they’ve built anything, we work to answer the questions, “What should a great version of these discussions look like? What should we expect as help in our thinking? What is the role of the discussion leader?”
Before they graduate from high school, I want them to graduate to owning class and their thinking.