Now that I have my question, I'm moving on to the next step, which is the phase in which I'll have to decide how I'm going to try to explore this question. I've decided to focus, at least for now, on my Sophomore Honors English class. This class has been lagging a bit lately, in fact I've found that the last two years I've had a hard time with this particular stage of this class. With my freshmen I keep things moving with a non-fiction unit that works well for this time of year, but my sophomores need to get ready for AP classes next year, and the last quarter is spent on the novel Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
I really like this book, and I enjoy teaching it. Unfortunately, the kids don't seem to share my enthusiasm. I made the observation last week that they were bored out of their gourds, and I was starting to lose momentum. My discussions have gone from lively and animated early in the semester to forced and (judging by the looks on their faces) boring. So I did some reflection and decided to turn the discussions over to the kids, asking them to write their own level three questions for us to focus our discussions on. I'm also going to do a round of group projects that will hopefully get them thinking about the book in a different way, and hopefully that will give the class some variety and relieve some of the boredom while still maintaining the rigor that I know I have to keep up.
But, as I have learned in my discussions on the Mother Blog this kind of reflective practice is only the beginning, so I'm going to attempt to apply the inquiry methods of teacher research to the problem. One of the things I want to do is to create a discussion about the book that is modeled after the "silent discussion" that my colleague Nate Hoffman shared with me a couple of years ago, and which I have used since then with varying degrees of what I consider to be success. The idea is that each student will post a paragraph or two to a class blog, and then will be asked to comment on one another's blogs to hopefully generate some discussion.
First, however, I want to make sure that I am answering my question; an essential component of this project is that I use my student's interest in and knowledge of the web to build a better sense of what "good writing" looks like. My plan is to look at examples of web writing and to ask the students to assess that writing, asking them what makes it good or bad. From that we will generate a list of characteristics of good writing from which we can create a class rubric to judge both their blog posts and their comments.
My first question is whether I should find examples, organize them into a Power Point and show them to the students as we go through the rubric-designing process, or if there is a way to get the students to find the examples themselves and then to share out with the rest of the class their ideas about good and bad web writing. One sounds easier than the other in terms of my work load, but if there is a significant advantage to having the students find the examples themselves, it may be a case in which the easier path is also the best for the kids. Easier is a relative term, though, I'll still have to come up with a system to organize the student searches and then set up a way for them to present their findings to the class (Power Points?).