The writing component of this project serves both to introduce students to each other and enter into the writing process. For it, we focus our attention on two poems that address different aspects of one's individual experience. The first, Being 13 (author unknown, but I linked to it here) defines this difficult age through timeless experiences that many adolescents can relate, and Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon, where the speaker captures aspects of her past that were important in defining her present identity.
Over the course of a class period, we read the poems, do some focused freewriting in response to each, discuss, then spend a little time creating copy change poems where students model the author's structure and organization to create poetry of their own. The lesson is a tight squeeze for into a one hour class, but it gives students an excellent experience with writing for different purposes as well as the start of two drafts and an aching hand.
When students return the next day, they freewrite in response to the following quote from Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers:
This writing invariably leads to discussion about their past experiences with learning writing in school, and it also leads in to the conversation about the importance of feedback for writers and the types of feedback that are most useful. I then introduce students to the concept of writing groups, and introduce them to theirs, whom with which they will have their first meeting today and will be working with throughout the school year. This first meeting, which consists of each writer reading their piece aloud and listing to the responses of group members, tends to be fairly short, and after students finish, we have a quick conversation about revision, and they spend what is left of the class time revising and developing one of their poems.To improve your writing you don't need advice about what changes to make; you don't need theories of what is good or what is bad writing. You need movies of people's minds as they read your words.
Glogging into Digital Writing
Glogster has established itself as a digital tool in most teachers' toolboxes, and as a result, my students need little overview about how to go about using it. Once signed on, I instruct students that they will be creating a Glogster poster with their poem being primary focus. I ask them to consider the mood of their poem, and to be deliberate about picking a both a wall for their poster and text box for their poem so that these visual texts build upon they mood their text creates.
We also review the idea of symbolism, and I ask them to make decisions about the graphics they include so that they in some way way symbolize the concepts that are expressing through their writing. After it appears that most students have these aspects of their poem well under way, I bring in another mini-lesson on using images and fair use, inviting them to include CC images in their digital poster as well.
As they take the better part of the class to type (and continue to revise) their poem and make selections about visual elements, I make sure to talk with as many students as I can about the decisions they are making. I try to keep our conferences encouraging and positive, which this year has turned out to be incredibly easy.
After a couple days spent creating their digital posters, I introduced students to an additional layer they would use to add to the meaning the reader of their poem would experience: video.
A neat feature of Glogster is its ability to grab a video and/or audio to be included on the poster directly from a computer's webcam and mic. After introducing this feature and brainstorming a list of questions they could ask each other about their writing, students got back in their writing groups and took turns interviewing the author of each Glogster poster. Each student included their interview on their poster, adding yet an additional layer of expression and type of media to their projects.
Students embedded their completed Glogster poster into a post on their blogs, and after a brief conversation about leaving comments, visited the posts of their classmates to view their projects and leave feedback. I asked students to first visit and comment on the projects of those in their writing group, as they have privileged insight into the journey undertaken by the author of these projects. Afterwards, they were free to visit and leave comments on any of their classmates' posts.
Grading writing is always tricky. On one hand, students should know what is expected from them and how they will be assessed. On the other, using a rubric with set criteria neglects the differences that students bring with them to my class and emphasizes product over process. Using standard criteria to assess a writing-based project can't begin to assess the thinking and learning that occurred through creating the project.
So for this project, and those that will come after it, I focused on assessing the important, but often unseen, aspects of this project the only way I know possible: by having them assess themselves. I posted the directions to the self assessment here.
Reflecting on Reflection....
But also, as expected, there were quite a few students who were thrown off by the idea of assessing themselves. For years, they've been given the message that learning is determined by the teacher, not them. Some students, in their assessments expressed relief that I wasn't just judging their final product because it did not truly reflect all of the effort and hard work they had put into their writing and/or learning how to use Glogster. There were others that quickly created sophisticated digital posters, who weren't able to say a whole lot about their writing or learning. And there were also a handful of students who were angry that they had to assess their own learning, wanting instead for me to do it for them.
Like or hate the concept of self assessment, my students will have plenty of opportunities to practice this sort of metacognition this year, and it's my hope that as we continue the process of writing and reflecting, that all of my students will feel more free to embrace the messy process of learning and the opportunity to reflect on the importance of what they have done.
Overall, this project turned out to be a terrific experience. Through carrying it out, I got to learn about this amazing new group of students, and the students got to learn about and connect with each other in ways they previously had not. They got to compose through multiple mediums and experienced moving back and forth in their writing between physical and digital spaces, and they experienced the practice of writing to think and learn, as well as writing for publication for a public audience.
This project served an important role in building our new classroom community, and it set the tone for the writing we will be doing for the next 175 or so days together. I'll be sure to keep posting about how that goes.
Below are a couple examples of projects by students who asked me to share them. I'm sure they'd love to receive some feedback!
Callie's project, titled "Callie's Poem"
Justin's Project, titled "Being Me"
Megan's project, titled "Being Megan"
David's project, titled "Being 13"
Katelynn's project, titled "Being Me"