Imaginations at Work

This blog will take me a little closer to home … into the eighth grade literature classes.  I am responsible for teaching one of those sections, and my colleague Susan Bauman teaches the other four.  Our collaboration contributes to so many best practices of good teaching.  Together we devise overall learning goals, create daily plans and activities, develop assessments, and look closely at our resources and materials.  Both of us routinely report that this collaboration keeps our teaching fresh.  We are living examples of two heads working better than one.

But this week’s blog is about the students and their unique ability to demonstrate and apply knowledge.

Since early September, we’ve been working with methods of characterization.  How do authors create characters that we so quickly take into our hearts?  How do they pull from thin air fictional people who can seem so real?  And how is it that we so quickly develop strong opinions – opinions worth arguing about – about these same characters?  We ask students to think about those Middle School literary lives that loom so large – Scout, Tom, Lennie – and delve into the text to discover the magic of creation.

For their final assessments, we asked students to use visual representations to demonstrate their knowledge of characterization and of character change.  Creativity and originality (and the WOW! factor) are at the top of the list of evaluation elements, and our students literally took this open-ended project and ran with it.

Projects that we have seen include technically adept videos, including one in which a student used his dog (a Corgi) to serve as a frightening wolf.  The dog actually did a good job.  Another student used friends outside the eighth grade to act out a story line of forgiveness and redemption. 

Power Points abound in this project, including the one entitled “The Story of an Ex-Shapist” that used a process very much like claymation to tell the parable of a triangle who excluded others based on differences and how he vows to change.   Several illustrated children’s books have demonstrated simple yet effective storytelling skills as well as artistic prowess.  And one three-dimensional story board creator combined a comic strip with a diorama, never losing sight of the concepts or the stated assignment.  Amazing!

Greenhill teachers often ask the right questions and then get out of the way, as our students consistently demonstrate the joy of learning coupled with a desire for excellence and a slightly off-beat and humorous view of the world.  This week, Susan Bauman and I have stood in appreciation as our students have found ways to show what they know.  It’s been great!

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