Today’s post has nothing to do with technology. Strange, I know. I just want to reflect on a small change I’ve made to the way I teach my grade 12 university level English class.
We’ve made a number of changes to the 4U course: no more “core novel,” which is great because I could never really figure out how to do a lot with The Life of Pi. Even though I did my best to incorporate more group discussion and focus on questioning skills, it still felt like I was spending too much time telling students what I thought the book was about and the last thing I want is to hear students parrot back what I said.
Now (thanks to a very supportive department head) we have four novels in the grade 12 course: The Life of Pi, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Three Day Road, and The Stone Carvers. Students choose two of the four books and participate in literature circles over the course of the semester. Except for the literature circle meetings and subsequent blogging tasks, the majority of the work will be done outside of class time. That got me thinking that it would be a little much to ask students to read their novels and complete double entry journals for them while also expecting them to complete discussion questions for the short fiction and nonfiction unit. I’m not a big believer in homework anyway. So I decided that I would find a way to structure the short fiction and nonfiction unit so that there isn’t any homework (I know! Crazy!).
So today I took the questions for a particular short story that I usually assigned for homework and divided them up so half were discussion questions (that they discussed with a partner) and half were individual questions that … well you get the idea. It was awesome! They used the time pretty well and were engaged in meaningful discussion and then gradually they broke off and did the individual questions quietly and with focus. I think they really appreciated the opportunity to talk. One boy came up to me at the end of class–and you have to picture him: gruff, stitches on his nose and the fading bruises under his eyes–and said “I really didn’t get the point of this story when read it the first time but these guys” gestures over his shoulder, “had some good ideas and helped me understand it.”
“Cool,” I replied. “That was sort of the idea.”
“Yeah. Like I totally didn’t see the sexual tension between Elisa and that tinker guy, but that makes sense now.” Then we had a brief discussion about Elisa and the tinker in Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums.” And he walked away nodding and he may have actually muttered thanks.
Awesome. Job done. Let the kids teach each other.