What do you do when your 11th grade students seem to be stuck as writers? Oh sure, they can write that five-paragraph essay alright--they've only been doing that since 6th grade. They know they need that all-important intro with a thesis statement. They know they need at least three claims, and they need to support those claims with evidence. They know they need to wrap everything up with a succinct conclusion. Yes, they've got that.
Why is it, then, that I sigh--heavily--when I see a stack of essays staring at me from my desk, demanding attention? Why do I find a million other things to do until they just can't be avoided a second longer? They're not going to be horrible. In fact, some of them will be amazing, but most of them will be okay. And it's that okay that keeps me from them.
I knew I needed to do something about these okay essays as 4th quarter came around. I realized that while spending almost the entire year trying to perfect the literary essay, an essential piece of my students got lost--their voice, and I wanted them to get that back.
Enter my sister, to the rescue!
Peg is a Teaching and Learning Coordinator specializing in technology for ESU10, an educational service unit for a large portion of schools in Nebraska. (follow her here and here). Her passion for education is infectious, and I love learning from her. I was lamenting--okay whining--about the essays awaiting me on a Sunday afternoon as I put them off even more with a sister FaceTime call. We got into a discussion about how to make writing more authentic, about how my students can write okay essays, and about how much I miss hearing their voice when they write about literature, and it is there that she introduced me to ThingLink.
After hearing Peg talk about ThingLink and viewing several of her creations, I realized that this could be the mode for my students to get their voices back. Instead of writing an essay, I gave them a bigger challenge. Their task was to create a ThingLink that contained all the components of a literary essay by linking words, pictures, videos, creations, music, etc.
I created my own Gatsby ThingLink to use as a model to share my process with my students. I explained how my title was the thesis statement and all the links became the other parts of the essay. I showed them which link would logically be my introduction (a Tellagami with me reading a short intro I had written). I showed them how I supported my thesis with pictures and webpages and videos and word clouds. Finally, I showed my grand finale conclusion, an iMovie I created to sum up all the links I had used. And they applauded! I had tears.
view my Gatsby ThingLink
Then we got to work. I gave them the project description and a planning sheet to get them started . . .
I was thrilled with the final projects! Instead of handing in essays, my students shared their Gatsby ThingLinks on the Promethean Board. We all applauded. I had tears again. Their work was not okay--it was amazing. See for yourself--here is a sampling of my juniors' Gatsby ThingLinks.
This Gatsby ThingLink project was successful because my students were intrinsically motivated. They
found a new solution to an old problem
became passionate about their work
became curious with their topics
discovered creative ways to make their point
used time management strategies for the process
worked together in a trusting environment
shared their projects
and most importantly
they got their voices back!