And in Literature…
Returning students who have been through the writing process have taken the lead in teaching new students through it. Last year, we read Farmer Giles of Ham and I wrote as the kids decided how to navigate the writing process. This year we read The Alchemist, and the old students were leaders. I broke them up into three groups.
The returning students are all excited, motivated thinkers, who really did internalize the process. They must have, they did it over seven times last year. Once they remembered what to do, they led students toward the goal of writing the paragraphs.
I gave all students a rubric outlining the paper and two graphic organizers which they will learn to make for themselves. The first graphic organizer is simply an event map of the story. The small groups struggled to put the right event in the right location starting with the the issue that gets the character up and on his quest (the problem), and then they put in the climactic moment, and then fill in the events leading up to the moment. Afterwards, they decide between four types of conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself.
We checked the event maps against each other and true to form, they all ended up with the most important events, and in the right order. The differences being minor and fixable. I did end up giving them a photocopy of the whole class one, but it was entirely their work. There was a debate as to whether the conflict was Man vs. Himself or Man vs. Nature, but since both arguments were clear and well constructed, I was willing to go with either.
Then the old students led their charges through the literature elements of character and setting. On both organizers, students answer questions that allow them to create a picture of each. Setting is hard because it is almost entirely metaphorical, but the returning students did a bang-up job. They found page numbers to support their claims. I did not have the groups check theirs against each other, because they frequently found different ideas, and I did not want the same paper from three different groups. Boring! What I love about literature is that there are so many right answers.
Then the old students led the new students through the outlining process. I had to remind them of the traditional outlining code, but once they remembered they flew through it. I heard more than one leader say, “It’s on your brainstorm. Just look there!” One of the leaders taught his students his special method of outlining. It works just fine, and I will simply have to get used to seeing it in the classroom.
Finally, they wrote. Old students opened up their computers and started a fresh document. I had to remind all students that this is a first draft. The point is to get the information out of the outline and into paragraphs. The first draft should be a little dodgy, and I heard the leaders say, when one of their group complained that it wasn’t exactly right, “That’s okay. It’s just the first draft, we can go back and fix it later.” Inside I was jumping for joy!
So, we have three, three paragraph essays on plot, character, and setting. I asked them not to worry about introduction and conclusion paragraphs just now.