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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    Your PLN gives you more people to disappoint

    August 2nd, 2011 | Filed under: teaching

    It’s a strange thing being a part of a digital network of teachers from all over the world, especially when you’re still a new teacher, feeling your way through this complex profession (when do you stop feeling new?). Even weirder when you’ve moved to a new country and are helping to open a school from the ground up. A terrifying, exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Did I mention terrifying?

    As the time ticks down to the end of August when I will meet my students for the first time – students that will likely be from all over the world, with experiences my younger self could only dream of having, with passport stamps to lands I’ve only seen in movies – sweat is beginning to bead upon my brow. My breathing has increased in pace and seems unlikely to slow until I get into a groove this fall and find some confidence and systems and routines. Sleep is unfulfilling and interrupted with bursts of 3:30 a.m. panic or inspiration or both.

    See, I haven’t taught for the last year. I moved to The Netherlands in the summer of 2010 and spent months securing residency and trying to settle into my new home. I have had my head in the education world thanks to some other work and planning this new school, but as for teaching, I’ve not been in a room with students since June 2010. And really, I hadn’t spent too much time working with students before that. Still a “new” teacher, remember?

    I am a new teacher. In a new school. In a new country. Doing so many new things, I feel like I’m learning with every turn. Nothing feels like something I’ve done before. This is a powerful and exhausting experience and I constantly find myself asking “is this right?” I try to see my newness as a positive and not as a disadvantage, but there are those days where you can’t help but feel like you will never measure up to the pros.

    Thankfully I have that digital network of teachers behind me. It can feel, at times, like a sounding board in the form of a well-worn safety blanket – something to run to when you just don’t know where else to go. This metaphor could be perceived any number of ways – is it a way to feel “connected” in a profession prone to loneliness? Or a false sense of security in a job where, in the end, you really do it on your own every day?

    But a strange thing has happened. As I feel the pressure of not disappointing my colleagues, parents, my new students, myself…I feel an even bigger pressure not to disappoint this network. See, when you surround yourself with people you consider experts – people you admire and learn from every day, sharing wowing ideas and experiences in education – you also have an even bigger cadre of people you can disappoint. This pushes me to try harder and do my best, but I know there will be mistakes. There will be days when I think “man, should I even BE a teacher?” I’m wondering if I’ll be confident enough to share those moments with these same teachers, or if I will bury them away in my notebook and keep the shame to myself. I find myself wondering if the “mistakes” shared by the educators I connect with online are akin to the “weaknesses” job applicants share in interviews – perceived downsides that really just beef up your strengths in the end. Do we really share the teaching skeletons in our closets? The moments we were so happy no one was observing that day? The strategies we used and think back on with the sort of stomach turning that only an embarrassing, high school moment can induce? And if we don’t share them, acknowledge them, and think about them, do we really learn from them?

    I will be teaching Language A & B English and Technology in all years of the MYP* in addition to some other hats this year as our new school opens later this month. A new school necessitates many hats being worn by only a few teachers. I bounce between moments of feeling brave and proud of myself for tackling such a project, but as the days tick closer those wins are punctuated with “are you crazy? What makes you think you can do this? Leave this stuff up to the pros – you’re not there yet.'” My consolation is knowing that my colleagues are in this with me. We are heading into unfamiliar seas and it is scary, but we are together.

    I know the path toward becoming a great teacher means walking that path as a teacher. I know at some point you have to leave behind consuming and reading and learning from your network – the theory – to do the thing you believe you were meant to do – teach. After a year of floating around, I may not feel completely ready to do that, but I am hoping when I do I can turn back to that same group of teachers and say “you were right. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was amazing. And damn, it feels good to be here again.”

    *This equates to 6th through 10th grade in the U.S. As a small school, we will have some grouping of grades, which is yet another new and exciting experience for me.

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