Saturday, May 03, 2008

School Again!

My senior AP Literature class had, as their final project for the year, the task of reading and teaching a contemporary novel. Working in groups of four members, they read, studied independently, organized, and creatively "taught" the novel to the class. I did not make as many pictures as I wanted to because I did not want to intimidate their presentations. I also just do not feel comfortable posting student pictures without permission, so you'll get mostly description here without pictures.

Novel 1--The Things They Carried, a novel about the Vietnam War by Tim O'Brien. Four young men showed up in fatigues with real ammo box (empty) and a very non-realistic machine gun. One of them had an authentic Vietnam-era helmet. If you have read the novel, you know that much of the first chapter is a summary of what the men carried in their packs. There are many lists of items, and much of the meaning of the chapter lies in the differences rather than in the many, many items that are the same for every soldier. There is also much emphasis on the emotional baggage that each man toted around with him, or "humped" as the narrator reminds us. The young men had diligently hunted down pictures of most of the common items in the packs and displayed the tiny pictures on two posterboards. To illustrate the historical and cultural background of the period (a requirement of the assignment), they produced an original film showing the draft, draft-dodging, the death of Ho Chi Minh, the election of Richard Nixon, Watergate, Kent State, the first moments of the Ford Presidency (Accompanied by an apology for depicting Gerald Ford with hair and a scene in which Nixon bumps into Ford on the way out of the White House and says, "Oh, pardon me!"). In spite of the humor in the film, their analysis of the novel, its organization, its themes, and the literary devices used was outstanding. As a side note, one of the young men read the book "by hand;" the others listened to an audiobook and then used his copy to look up quotations and evidence for their projects.

Novel 2--The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Four girls more than adequately covered all the aspects of the novel, produced some showy tri-fold posters and an in-depth character analysis, and did a great job of teaching about Down's syndrome with a Power Point. The students, thanks to their advanced science classes, followed the charts on chromosomes. I just stared blankly at them. They followed their presentation with a team against team Jeopardy game with candy bars for prizes. The girls were all dressed in black with hot pink accents to match their trifolds.

Novel 3--The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The audience sat on quilts on the classroom floor while the girls in semitropical and 60s dress served a traditional Congolese food.

They had also made a film using an opening blossom and the leaves on the trees to illustrate the organizational structure of the novel. They used two different PowerPoints in the course of their presentation of the required evidence about literary elements. The character analyses were presented on a poster. I'm including pictures here because they illustrated their characters with appliques of craft foam and other objects. Here's the closeup of one character:

And here is the entire Price family, with analyses below:

Novel 4--All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. The most unusual feature of this presentation was the use of Google Earth to trace the journey of a 16-year-old on horseback from San Angelo, Texas, to deep into Mexico in 1949. These students set the scene for this presentation with Western clothes, a saddle, a cowboy hat, and a sombrero. They did an outstanding job of recognizing the story as a journey of discovery and initiation into adulthood for the young man, John Grady Cole. They particularly enjoyed the cultural backgrounds of the novel since we live in both. The discussion of diction as evidence of educational background and social class included not only the English in the novel but also the Spanish. They also had a quiz for the audience.

Perhaps I should have had the students write formal research papers over the novels they read, but this assignment accomplished much the same purpose. They already know how to properly research, write, and document a paper, and it is the spring of their senior year, and they are tired. I think an outlet for creativity was a good thing.


Deb said...

What a terrific assignment! I am sure the kids got way more out of this kind of project/presentation than they would have gotten from the type of papers we had to do when we were their age. (I'm inferring from your blog/comments on my blog, etc. that we're age contemporaries.) I would have loved to have been part of the audience for these presentations.

LizzieK8 said...

Oh how I would have loved doing that kind of stuff when I was in school. Projects are such fun and when you can find someone as interested as you are in it to work with....sheer heaven!

Robin said...

Sounds like you have some very creative students.