Classy: Using social media to tell stories…real stories

I wrote a while ago about the stories my seniors are writing in our storytelling class. Each randomly drew one of Aristotle’s identified human emotions from a hat and was asked to let that emotion inspire a short story.

A few days later, the students partnered with one another with the goal of getting to know each other’s protagonists.

“What’s the name of one of your characters?” was the starting question. From there, the sky was the limit. They inquired about the characters’ favorite colors, their histories with their parents, what kind of students they were in middle school, their appearances – anything.

As partners questioned, they took notes on the answers. Those notes were handed over to the writers when the interviews were over as reminders of whom they were writing about. The activity proved informative.

“I’ve never really thought about who a character was before a story I was writing.”

“This makes me feel like I know the character, like she’s real.”

That’s the idea.

Then they wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

Last week, we read Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal’s story outing Chicagoan Dan Singer as the man behind the twitory of @MayorEmanuel.

We discussed the idea that an entirely new genre of literature (or several) was being created in our lifetimes. Story was being transformed.

As it’s a storytelling class guided in part by the essential question, “How does the way we tell stories affect those stories,” it seemed a good idea to try our hands at these new genres.

Enter the project.

Description: Taking the story you wrote based off of one of Aristotle’s identified emotions, plot the timeline of your story, select the tool or tools you’ll want to use and tell your story in real time. Think of it as a mix of 24 and @MayorEmanuel.

I informally launched it Friday as an idea I’d been playing around with. Nothing formal. Just words in a conversation.

Monday, I handed out project descriptions and we started building. Today, we collaborated on the rubric.

Any online tool is fair game – Facebook, tumblr, twitter, youtube, anything.

In traditional arts and letters, we have fiction and nonfiction with the line blurring from time to time.

If everything can be read as a text and if the more traditional texts are moving online, is anything inherently nonfiction?

Some of what they’re writing violates user agreements. I don’t feel badly about that. If Mark Zuckerberg can play in my backyard, I can play in his.

One student has solicited his friends to also build character profiles to improvisationally interact with his protagonist and the events of the narrative. Other students have created public profiles on Facebook for their characters’ public thoughts and anonymous tumblr accounts for those same characters’ private thoughts. Anyone with both links will have the whole story, but either link will provide a different narrative.

Differing from Singer, we built blueprints and timelines for these stories. As I checked them in today, the students explained how they’d begun posting as exposition already.

Thursday I received a friend request on ‘Book from someone named Kwadwo Watcher. A few minutes later, I received the message below.

Another character started following me on twitter. A few students’ characters are following and friending one another with plans for intertextual cross-pollination.

All signs are pointing to the probability that this will be an interesting project.

Things I Know 40 of 365: I have an idea for a school

Coffeehouses have provided places to plan revolutions, write poetry, do business, and meet friends.

– Mark Pendergast, Uncommon Grounds

A blended online and face-to-face school.

The school is a coffee shop. It’s not like a coffee shop or based on a coffee shop. The school is a coffee shop.

Initially a 6-8 school, as the first class matriculates, it becomes 6-12.

In addition to their online learning, students are required to attend regular class meetings at the coffee shop.

Depending on need and what’s being investigated, these meetings are either hetero- or homogenous along the lines of age and subjects. As student needs shift, some courses are hosted by completely virtual schools and augmented by enrichment inquiry-based programming within the school.

Younger students are required to accumulate a set number of community service hours working within the elementary schools most convenient to their transportation abilities.

As they grow older, students must clock a certain number of hours helping to run the shop and can work outright in the shop after those hours have accumulated. Even once the shop is fully staffed, students have marketable, transferrable skills as well as well-developed resumes and favorable employer recommendations.

Taking a page from 826 Valencia, local writers, artists and thinkers are invited to join the school as tutors and guest teachers with the added bonus of shop discounts. Student artwork and music is showcased alongside local community artists on the shop’s walls and during various open mic events.

Once the upper school component is implemented, the school designs an internship program similar to SLA’s Individualized Learning Plan program connecting the shop with local organizations, farms, and businesses. Utilizing the space’s inherent plasticity, internship interviews are hosted at the shop.

As these connections are fostered, the shop serves a point of contact for the various community service organizations at which the students complete their internships and those people the organizations work to serve.

As an example, the shop serves as a drop-off/pick-up point for community supported agriculture programs to which students’ families can opt in at a reduced price.

The open, blended schedule allows older students to participate in a wide range of dual-enrollment courses with few time restrictions.

For physical fitness, students join local club teams and other community sporting groups.

Any profits from the shop are distributed among student activity funds as well as scholarships for the school’s graduates.

Graduates who attend universities near the shop frequently return as customers seeking a place to study, thereby providing a tangible model of success for younger students.

Teacher hours are malleable and shaped around programming needs.

As part of its professional development, the school hosts informal themed teach-ups for any interested local teachers.

Once enrollment hits the set maximum, the school is prepared for replication.

Who’s in?

I won’t be telling them what to think

The Gist:

  • My G11 students are reading The Great Gatsby.
  • After the choice afforded them in the last quarter, I can’t be every other English teacher.
  • We’re challenging the Academy and having numerous books vie for the title of Great American Novel.

The Whole Story:

Monday, I tweeted out the link to a simple questionnaire. It contains two statements: 1) What is the Great American Novel? 2) If you’d like to make your case, do it below.

My G11 students also received their copies of our latest class novel Monday. Maybe you’ve heard of a little book called The Great Gatsby? Apparently, it’s quite popular. In fact, many argue it qualifies as the GAN.

Narrowing down the results of the questionnaire, my classes will be pitting 8 contenders against one another. The final contender will face off against Gatsby.

I’ve written about this before. The original idea was to put Gatsby on trial for libel and slander against other novels. After consulting with many people whose thoughtfulness and opinions I greatly value, I was left with a sort of literary March Madness.

I won’t be walking my students through Gatsby. I won’t be indoctrinating them to the symbolism of that light at the end of that dock. I won’t be talking about the American dream or gender roles and the power of adhering to them.

Instead, I’ve given my students some simple instructions:

Read this book with the idea that you will either have to argue against its status as the GAN

or defend its standing as the GAN.

If the American dream and gender roles and symbolism are really key and keen in the text, they should pick up on them. If something else is there, they’ll pick up on that. Is the symbolism important because my teachers told me it was there or because it’s important? I want to start clean.

We’ve talked about some strategies for tracking their thinking. They can use the tried and true sticky notes. They can make a bookmark for each chapter where they track positives on one side and negatives on the other. They can take notes in a notebook. Turns out I don’t care.

They’ve until April 5 to finish.

During classes, they’ll frequently have time to read, about 20 minutes. Tomorrow, I’ll help them decide how to schedule their reading. They’ve 180 pages of 9 chapters and either 12 or 7 days depending on if they want to read over Spring Break. Their pace and rate are up to them.

During the remaining 2/3 of class, we’ll be debating and deciding the qualifiers of the GAN as well as practicing discreet reading and writing skills using other texts.

April 5, they’ll compile their notes, hand in their copies of Gatsby and find out which text they’ll be reading over the next two weeks. This will, be the text on whose behalf they’ll be arguing.

Rather than discussing qualifiers of the GAN, we’ll be using non-reading class time to examine literary lenses they can use to make their cases – Feminist, Marxist, Reader-Response, Postcolonial, Deconstructionist, New Criticism. Throw in some more discreet skills, and you’ve got a hopping time.

The results coming in on the questionnaire are backing my decision to head this direction with things. Largely, the texts suggested line up as canonical standards. It seems dead white guys were really in touch with how to write in a way that resonated with the American spirit.

My goal for this is not to have my students look at any of these texts as the GAN, but to look at these texts and ask why they hold the status they hold and then ask whether or not they deserve that status.

I’m curious to see what they think.

You’re probably asking, “Wow, Zac, that’s great. But, what can I do to help?”

Great question, you.

If you haven’t already, take about 2 minutes to complete the questionnaire and nominate your contender for GAN.

Starting Friday, we’ll be seeding the top 8, check back then to help fill out our brackets.

Oh, one other thing, talk about your nominee with someone. The conversations I’ve had in the last two days have definitely enriched my appreciation for literature. If nothing else, twitter’s seemed less monocultural for a day or two.

I’m going back to school

The Gist:

  • I got a scholarship to get my master’s degree.
  • It has me thinking about the kind of entitled, empowered learner I’ve become.
  • I wonder if the kind of learner I’ve become will mesh with this online program.

The Whole Deal:

I had something extra to be thankful for this year – I hope.

Tuesday, I received an e-mail from the Liberty Mutual Teachers Program. Through their Learn Return program, I’ve received a scholarship to pursue my master’s degree.

I’m psyched.

I’ve made a few starts at going to grad school. The furthest I’ve come was a program through Walden University just before I moved up to Philly. Turned out moving expenses and tuition expenses aren’t always compatible.

I resigned myself to the idea that I would be getting my master’s as soon as someone offered to pay for it. Who knew that would actually happen.

The folks at Learn Return have told me I’d be getting info. in the next couple of weeks about how to redeem my “scholarship through Pearson Education and its master’s degree partner.”

In a few weeks, the experiment begins.

Last week, while presenting with SLA colleagues and students at Digital is… the National Writing Project’s first annual conference, a participant from a college that will not be named commented, “I worry that we’re not ready for your students.”

I told her they should be worried.

I am a little bit too. SLA students are empowered and entitled. It’s a direct result of Chris empowering and entitling his teachers.

Thusly, I’m an entitled and empowered teacher / learner. I wonder if Pearson Education and its master’s degree partner are ready for me.

It will be a grand experiment.