Friday, September 28, 2007

Replacing a Lecture

About a week and a half ago, I was coming up on introducing the novel Of Mice and Men to my juniors. I absolutely hate introducing novels because I'd not found any way to do this beyond lecture. Don't get me wrong, when a novel is being started, it very valuable to know something about an author and his circumstances to understand the context of the novel: Why did an author write it? What had the author experienced that might be in the novel? What was going on in the world at the time? These global questions often act as a nice framework to begin talking about the work. However, those lectures were deadly.

It finally hit me the period before this introductory lecture (better before than after!): why not have the kids research and document the information? The laptops were available and unscheduled for that time, so I decided to jump off a cliff and give it a go.

I started the activity by setting the framework that knowing about an author and his background can often lead to an understanding of the novel. I gave them the author's last name, the name of the novel, and 20 minutes. They were off and researching! My only insistence this first time out was to record their individual finds on paper, so I could track individual participation. Of course, I monitored their progress as well be circulating the classroom.

Five minutes later...time to have a talk about web site selection; can you believe everything on any website? Who can you trust? Can you trust Wikipedia? (Yes, Wikipedia was an early stop.)

Twenty minutes later, I started recording the kids' findings on the interactive whiter board as they threw them out. They found every major fact that I would have given in lecture (except the formal name of his style), and when I told them this, they were amazed. I wrapped up by defining realism and talking with them about which facts tied in to that concept. We had set the stage for what Steinbeck brought to his writing and how it might have affected the outcome.

What would I do differently?
  • I definitely need to be more clear in insisting on the note taking; I've got to have some record of what the kids find and where they have been.
  • Hmmm, where they've been: must have the kids cite their sources. At what site did they find the content they found? Can it be corroborated on another site? Was it?
  • Wouldn't it be cool to have the kids put their findings on the board live as they find them? Waiting to the end was effective, but might it be even more powerful to have this happening live?

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