In my last post, Applying Lessons from a Science Classroom to the Curricular Design of a Literary Analysis Course, I discussed my goal of empirically testing the mettle of a novel, authentic product for illustrating mastery of content and literary analysis skills: a magazine featuring several pieces (articles, essays, short stories, and graphic short stories) that each approached the course’s focus (the dystopian genre). In older posts (1 and 2), I discussed my previous success with this type of assignment/means of assessment. However, crucial to the validity of my “experiment” was a large and diverse sample size. In the past, I worked with a more uniformly, highly skilled group of students. Now, I asked:
“With my current heterogenous mix of interests and abilities, [will] students have their interests piqued by the “authenticity to the discipline” of a magazine and, perhaps more importantly, if the task will inspire them to produce long-form literary analysis that is personally authentic or if it will be too daunting with the additional effort necessitated by trying something new and complex?”
So, as the semester winds down and students projects pour in, what have I discovered? Did I hit the jackpot and create a project that elicits “literary analysis that is personally authentic, geared toward an authentic audience, and authentic to the discipline–the holy trinity”?
To explain this paradoxical conclusion, I need to provide a little more context. In my original magazine project, the magazine consisted of just a cover and a single long-format article. This worked wonderfully (hence my desire to replicate it)! For my new magazine project, students had been building their magazines all semester long. On day one, in the syllabus, I explained that the culminating project would be the compiling of a magazine. Currently, students are in the midst of that process: collecting, editing, revising, compiling, reformatting, and adding graphics to their previous projects.
To conclude, I will leave you all with a few of the key pros and cons of the new approach:
- Pro: The magazines truly feel like magazines, with several types of content included
- Pro: as each project was going to end up as a component of a larger product,–from a planning perspective–I was forced to consider the way every unit and related-project worked towards answering the course’s essential questions
- Pro: The diversity of components allowed students multiple access points to the course’s focus (e.g. students produced graphic short stories that illustrated their understanding of the dystopian genre and how dystopian texts tend to illustrate a fear of the author)
- Con: Because the magazine doesn’t “come together” until the very end of the semester, it was hard for students to feel the authenticity of the product throughout the LONG process of making all the components
- Con: students whose understandings of the dystopian genre evolved over the course of the semester, as they should have, were left with a much larger revision task than those who had understood the concept with nuance since the beginning. Unfortunately, the former group tends to be one and the same as the students who are most overwhelmed by the revision process
- Con: The compilation process, which I have called a “mini-project,” feels like superfluous extra work to many students, especially second semester seniors that are only days away from graduating, as opposed to a critical, culminating part of the semester