Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Crowd-Sourcing the Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

Today, to introduce Zora Neale Hurston and her visionary novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, I ask students to come up with the source material for the introduction. This mini-project requires them to collaborate, to think critically and creatively, to communicate ideas, to recognize perspectives and to take action. My rationale is to make the students responsible for their own learning in this unit from the very beginning. We do this in sixth period (rather than second) because sixth period has nine students instead of sixteen, a more manageable number for my first attempt with this exercise.

To set up this lesson, I create a Google Presentation and share it with the students at the beginning of class. The presentation is empty, but the template is set. Then, I hand out slips of paper that look like this:

Next, I give students ten minutes to do a quick online search for info about the novel or Hurston and  then create a single slide for the Google Presentation. Whatever information they put on their slides, it must be relevant to topic, and it MUST appeal to the sense listed on their slip of paper.

I think the work they did was good, given that they only had ten minutes to do it. What do you think?

Some of the best learning  results when a student is stumped (of course!) and asks me a question like, "Mrs. Forster, how am I supposed to make a slide for Zora Neale Hurston and smell?" and I say, "I know you will figure it out." And then they do; they figure it out. It's my favorite moment -- seeing how the student solves the problem, especially given the time constraint.

After the presentation is complete, I can use it as a teaching tool. For example, I can talk about how to use the "link" button to make the presentation flow better (in the above example, the students didn't link the audio or video sites, so we had to copy and paste to get to the sites). Also, I can reinforce the importance of citing their sources. When each student is charged to create a slide as part of a group presentation, it's a good idea to put the citations directly onto the slide itself, instead of on a Bibliography slide at the end of the presentation. Although, come to think of it, that would be another good level of learning -- making a group Bibliography/Works cited slide while using MLA formatting correctly. 

Right now, my freshmen are creating multi-sensory presentations about J.D. Salinger and the controversy surrounding Catcher in the Rye. They are working in teams of two to four and competing for the "prize" of teaching my other section of English I via their Google presentations.