One of the favorite lessons in my freshman English class, both for me and for the students, is what I call the fractured novel. I realized that teaching the entirety of Great Expectations took so much time away from other curriculum that I might need to cut it. Trouble is, I loved the book, and felt it was one of those books people would expect an educated person to know. A few years ago, I decided to try something different, and assign individual chapters to the students, and created a bunch of fun activities where they needed to be detectives and create questions, theories, and explanations for the portions they were assigned. The students found it challenging yet very interesting. Once we had “reconstructed” the story and themes sufficiently in class, we watched the BBC Masterpiece Theater version.
All this had been well and good, but there was SO much paper. I copied four versions of the entire book, and then spent a weekend dividing the parts, and then most of the assignments were paper-based.
This year, trying to move ever closer to a paperless classroom, I decided to try to do it all online. I have been trying to move to Edmodo more and more for months, but this was the big test. I found the text online, we chose from numbers I printed on my board, and they logged in and read their sections. I followed with a comment thread where I asked them to ask at least three questions, and answer one. Finally, I asked them to post on another topic a one-paragraph summary of their sections. Some observations I thought were notable:
- Many students figured out how to find versions of their chapters on their cell phones. This wwas exciting for them, and me, to watch.
- Overall participation was great. The Q/A thread got up to 200+ replies, and even many of my struggling students participated. I did not promise or threaten any points or reward for doing this.
- Students became leaders. Some students began actively pointing certain questions at the group they saw as missing, without a personal interest in the answer beyond general curiosity.
- The summary thread was started early, on one student’s suggestion. He remarked that all of the info was confusing, so they should each post a summary to make it easier (this before I ever formally assigned it.) Dozens of students did an assignment without even realizing it was an assignment.
- Another student volunteered to create a Google Doc, and copy the summaries into it, and arrange them in order. She actually asked me for permission to do this.
- They supported each other a lot! Stronger students offered to help others understand their section and/or write summaries, just for the good of the group.
- I saw very little evidence of anyone cheating and using online summaries. Most were very genuine responses
Without a doubt, this change will be a keeper. I have been pretty positive about it all along, obviously, but I am now sold on online enhancement instead of homework. I have great expectations for next year!