Hints of budding multigenre success

January 25th, 2014 | Filed under: teaching

I attempted a multigenre project in my first year at ISB with my 9th and 10th grade group, which at the time was only four students. We have grown in the last two years since that class and now I’m teaching individual year groups that are a bit larger. I decided this year to attempt the multigenre project again with my MYP 5 students (10th graders) who are heading toward the Diploma Programme next year. I wanted to try this again despite the rough first go for a number of reasons:

  • In the Diploma Programme, students need to be able to rationalize and justify their decisions in creative pieces. They need more practice with this, which the multigenre project allows.
  • Students always need practice with research and, more importantly, with evaluating and assessing sources for reliability and usefulness. The multigenre project in my class is a research project and I require an annotated bibliography so students can continue to develop their evaluation and reflection skills.
  • Choice and flexibility are powerful motivators and the multigenre project is an endless spider web of choices students can make so that they truly feel ownership over the experience.
  • I want to improve on that first experience with the multigenre project and use some of that reflection to improve my practice.
  • Multigenre projects are much more interesting to read and assess than traditional research papers. Duh!
  • I think one of the difficulties I had the first year (aside from the fact that it was the first year of a brand new school and programme and country for me) was that I didn’t have an appropriate anchor for the project. I needed somewhere to start that would show students the importance and inherent reward in research. I decided this year to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot with the MYP 5 group. It is an amazing story with many angles for inquiry, but it is also a work of research that the author became invested in personally. The book is written in a creative non-fiction style that makes the scientific bits accessible and it uses primary source material to bring the research to life for readers. I’ve found it to be a perfect jumping-off point for multigenre inquiry.

    I also felt that in my first year of experience with multigenre that I didn’t give the students enough opportunity to practice with different genres nor did I model different types of writing enough for them. The book has given us endless prompts for multigenre practice that both gives me formative feedback on how students are understanding the story and gives them experience with using research to inspire genre writing.

    For example, last week we attempted to compose a poem based on the first few chapters of the story. I told students they could write a poem based on anything that came to mind from the text. This was challenging for some students, particularly the English language learners, but everyone came away with something in their writer’s notebooks – even me! After writing in their notebooks for about 15 minutes, I asked students to share their poems with the others at their tables and discuss why they made certain decisions about content and form. This discussion allowed students to use literary language (I heard words like “rhyme scheme” and “haiku” floating around) and forced them to reflect and rationalize some of their decisions. In hindsight I think starting with a poem was too intimidating for students and I might move it to a later week in the project, but it was successful despite how shy students were in sharing their work.

    This successful interaction, though it took some time, told me I was on to something and I got excited. Maybe this year’s multigenre project would be different!

    This week I decided to give multigenre practice a second go around, but with a far less literary genre: the to-do list. After some discussion of what exactly a “to-do list” is for some of the English language learners, we dove into practice. We had just finished reading a painful chapter from the book in which Henrietta Lacks is in the throes of a cancer that is metastasizing and literally eating her insides. I asked students to write a to-do list from Henrietta’s perspective – what would be on this woman’s to-do list in this moment? The results were exciting and led to even more discussion among students, some of them very philosophical. I think this genre was a good one to do because it was small, familiar and truly demonstrated for students how even the most common genres can be used to powerful effect. A few of them started jotting down ideas for their own projects after this bit of practice. I imagine I will be seeing the to-do list in more than a few projects.

    Right now students have finalized their topics and they are beginning to do some research. This week they need to find their first source and do an annotation to start their annotated bibliographies. I have also asked students to add some genre ideas to their annotations after using the source and to consider what types of writing they could do to show their learning.

    My requirements for the task are quite general. The project should include:
    • a “dear reader” letter
    • 5 genres with rationales for each – one creative, one informational, the rest is left up to the student
    • 5 sources – one human, one print, one multimedia, the rest is left up to the student
    • annotated bibliography
    • form rationale in which the student explains the form of the project (book, website, etc.)

    There are some great sources out there for multigenre projects and I’m using a few heavily as I work through this unit:

    Next week we will continue working through the book and playing with different genres. In the past few weeks I have shown students examples of multigenre projects I have found online, from students ranging in age from university level to 11-year-olds. I keep the links available for students and I take some time to just scroll through them on the board in class and discuss the elements we see. It’s a pretty fluid and sometimes messy unit, but I’m getting excited as we push forward.

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    8 Comments on “Hints of budding multigenre success”

    1. 1 Hannah Waters said at 3:39 pm on January 26th, 2014:

      I’ve never done a multigenre project, but just reading about it is exciting. It sounds like such a great way to incorporate all these seemingly unconnected things into an understandable project that can be adapted to both low and high levels of education. As a future teacher, I’m very interested in the process that you’ve taken to get to this point in the project. It’s take some pressure off to see that you’re learning from the things that maybe didn’t work so well, so that you can continually make it more effective. Thank you for sharing!

    2. 2 Ramsey Willis said at 4:11 pm on February 18th, 2014:

      Hi Mary,

      My name is Ramsey Willis and I am in EDM 510 at the University of South Alabama. I have never completed a multigenre project but it sounds like it will be a lot of fun for your students. They get to learn how to write and research as well as put together a finished project, all needed for higher education. I see that you have learned from your first attempt and this is what teachers should be doing along with teaching. Great post and I look forward to seeing how your students succeed. You can visitmy blog if you would like. I will posting a summary of different comments that I have left for teachers. I also have some interesting posts of my own. Thanks for sharing.

      Ramsey Willis

    3. 3 Kaitlyn Wyman said at 8:59 am on February 23rd, 2014:

      Hello Mary!

      I am Kaitlyn Wyman, and I too go to the University of South Alabama, studying, of course, to be a teacher. In my days in high school, I remember having to complete a multigenre project, and I absolutely enjoyed it. Maybe in my future classrooms I can implement the same project! Thanks for sharing!

    4. 4 Miriam Bellamy said at 11:44 pm on March 22nd, 2014:

      Hey Mary,

      My name is Miriam Bellamy and just like Ramsey and Kaitlyn, I am also a student at the University of South Alabama. However, I am in another class called EDM310. I really liked reading your blog post. I learned something new called a multigenre project. It seems really interesting. I hope you can do more of them with your future classes.

    5. 5 Jeffrey Brazeal said at 7:26 pm on April 13th, 2014:

      I too am from the University of South Alabama, and I agree with the others above. Sounds neat. I myself have always enjoyed my English and Lit. classes, so I enjoy reading about these sort of projects.

    6. 6 Kelia Fagan said at 8:02 pm on October 5th, 2014:


      My name is Kelia Fagan I am an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I have never completed a multigenre project. However, it just makes sense. I love how you brought real world easy tasks such as making a “to-do list” and incorporated it to a series of events in a rough part of the story. I truly believe this helps the students analyze a difficult series of emotions and compartmentalize them into a list that is simplistic yet thorough. I enjoyed your blog today. Thank you for your time.

    7. 7 Laura Andrews said at 12:17 pm on October 20th, 2014:

      Hey Mary! I don’t think I have ever done a multigenre project nor have I ever really heard of one. They sound like a great idea though because it integrates many different things into one project while allowing students to learn and use their creativity. This is definitely something I would consider doing with some modification in my future elementary classroom!

    8. 8 Taylor said at 9:37 pm on November 26th, 2014:

      Hello Mary!
      Wow, this sounds like a brilliant idea you’ve come up. I’m still a student here in Mobile at the University of South Alabama. I have never had any experience with a project quite like this but I can see all the thought and trial and error you have gone through to really reach your goal. I especially liked the poem assignment. How creative! These are the kinds of assignments that really get your students thinking outside of the box and on more important things then just covering the material. It sounds like you are really enjoying this project. Keep it up!

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