Sunday, December 4, 2011

Authentic Research & Creative Writing Task to Complement Octavia Butler’s Kindred

Last year, my high school librarian LaDawna Harrington suggested a project she’s used before to have students create a decade’s magazine which would require students to research a particular decade with a group and write feature articles, advertisements and stories based on their research.  While teaching Octavia Butler’s Kindred, I decided to modify the story assignment to require students to write about a modern American character that travels back to that decade as characters in Kindred do. 

This year, I had a few model magazines to help students see what the final product should look like.  I first had students rank their top choices for different decades in American history.  Across the board, most students identify one or two main events that they can associate with any decade they consider.  It becomes really fun for me when they go to the library and find out so much more about pop culture from those decades and I see how interested they become in their decades. 

The main content of the magazine is their short stories that are modeled after Kindred.  Although students did a good job writing these stories last year, I wanted to provide students with more time to write and more feedback on their creative pieces like I typically allot to my fiction classes.  I started with more writing prompts and exercises to get them thinking about their time period and how to write about characters going back to that decade.  After going to NCTE, I was moved by many of the prompts Deborah Hopkinson and Kirby Larson suggested during the session "The Best Old Stories Make the Best New Stories." 

Students already created digital portfolios and I’m hoping that they incorporate many parts of the magazine on their websites for the 2nd marking period.  Within their decade groups, students had to write letters to each other about their websites that included one positive comment and at least one critique or suggestion (I participated in this process too: My American Literature Portfolio).  As small writing communities, we reviewed the letters in class and discussed what parts of the comments would be appropriate to post on the sites and what parts would be more appropriate to email or inform group members in class.  We discussed the negative aspects of online commenting (especially under anonymous profiles) and how we want to comment on each other's work in a positive manner.

Building on their writing communities for websites, students came to class with drafts of their short stories and as each individual read his/her story, the other group members used small comment cards (How they viewed the tone of the piece in ONE WORD, one aspect they liked about the story, and one suggestion for improvement).  Within groups of 3-5 students, it took them about 20-30 minutes to workshop their pieces.  When groups finished, they had specific directions to annotate writing techniques Octavia Butler used (dialogue, internal thoughts, and plot transitions) as Dana figured out where she was in the past for the first time. 

During the work shopping process, it was important for students to read their individual pieces aloud as most students were able to identify wording issues from this process.  I also participated in writing process and joined a group in each of my four American literature classes.  On my class site, I’m showing students updated drafts for my story featuring Alice Paul and what the editing process is like for me.  I was particularly motivated to write with my students after attending NCTE's session, "The Power of Writing with Students."  Writing with them and participating in the workshopping process has made such a difference and I want to thank the presenters!