Yes, I’m trying this template again. Let me know what you think.
I’ve blogged already about my writing process, but not as much about my teaching process, how I figure out how I want to teach, what kinds of plans I make or assignments I design. I did an assignment recently with my high school juniors that I thought would be an interesting example– a project where the students assumed characters in The Great Gatsby and interacted with each other via a Facebook-style interface on my own faculty webpage.
First, I read an online lesson plan from the NEH about Gatsby’s “secret society”, which I used as a launching pad when I discussed the book with my students last year. Then I saw AustenBook, a clever retelling of Pride and Prejudice in Facebook status updates, events, groups and notes. I thought it was a genius idea, but I don’t teach P&P, so I tried to think about the text I do teach that could work. The NEH lesson plan floated to the top of my brain and I had a flash– how about Gatsby on Facebook? So much of the book is about secrets kept and spilled, about what is said and cannot be said, about the social connections that overlap and conceal so much in the world the novel creates.
Once I had jotted down some notes and tried to work out what the students could do, I went to see our tech coordinator, who used to teach English, and we brainstormed about what the project could look like and how the tech aspects could go. I decided that each student would be responsible for choosing a character and designing a profile for that character. They also had to choose a chapter and reconstruct it through Facebook-style events, updates, and more, including writing on each other’s walls in their chosen voice. Finally, they each had to write two notes, approx 250 words each, that fit into their selected chapter or character. We did one session with the tech coordinator to help them see how they would be using the functions and options on Sharepoint, which is what we use at our school. They also had one class period to work on their projects.
Overall, I was really happy with how the projects went. Some characters went unselected, like Myrtle and Jordan, and I wish I had assigned them to make sure they got covered. I also wish I had required a bit more use of pictures and images. I think it was an interesting experiment with reader-response criticism, and I’ve really been trying to think carefully about integrating technology in a way that would be useful to enhancing student understanding. The students themselves really enjoyed it. At first, I think they thought it would be easy, but once they really tried to think about the voices they were using, and how to stay within character and what would be appropriate in the modern framework, it was more difficult. I’ve been wondering too if I could assign them characters at the beginning of the novel, and they could act on GatsbyBook as the book progresses, in real-time almost. Maybe next year. I also think it gave some struggling students a bit of a break from essay writing, and allowed them to show their understanding of the text, hopefully building their confidence a bit along the way.
If you’d like to see the assignment sheet or rubric, drop me a comment and let me know!
UPDATE: if you are interested in this project, PLEASE see this entry also, where I have updated my thoughts here, added the documents for downloading, and also added more current and useful links. Thanks!