Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Slice of Life: Some teaching ideas--argument and infographics

One of the experiments this year with my A.P. English Language and Composition class has been to include more choice reading. For two assignments, I gave them completely free reign: they could pick any book that interested them. They wrote reviews, made book trailers, and/or created print materials to market the book.

Another two assignments gave a choice from a list of fairly recent non-fiction works; one of our fine librarians and I compiled these lists. The first included a variety of memoirs and autobiographies. The most recent attempts to address some of the issues under debate in American society.

To keep it manageable, I narrowed down the choices to 8 (see below).  The list isn't perfect and the categorization might be a touch arbitrary, but I thought 8 books in 3 rough categories would be all I could manage to track. I attempted to have a wide enough variety to be appealing.

I also required that 3 students choose a book for it to be "approved," creating class reading groups, and that they lock in to their choices by this Thursday. The minimum requirement ensures no one struggles alone with a book and can discuss it with others. The book group ensures that students can collaborate on the creation of materials to share with the class. The change deadline ensured they took advantage of the list and resources I provided  (see Part I below), and that they didn't leave a classmate in the lurch by abandoning en masse at the last minute.

With these books, students will have to complete the following:
Part I: Investigate and choose.
Each book is between 232 and 300 pages, which I will expect them to read in a little over 2-2.5 weeks. I provided a list that included excerpts from the descriptions and one link per book to an interview with the author. Their only homework this week will be choosing/obtaining the book and starting to read. 
Part II: Read, discuss, and react
 I expect them to be about halfway through the book by next Thursday. So, I've built in some group discussion time in class and will require a blog post reflecting on their thinking so far (Hopefully, they can blog someplace where they can have a real audience; likely it will be in our class Blackboard environment). There will be another blog post at the finishing deadline after spring break (April 3) and two-three discussion sessions where they talk about their overall impressions and divvy up the part III work.
Part III: Create and synthesize.
Infographics will be the focus of this project; they have already seen some samples on last week when I discussed analyzing images. Though we browsed and looked at a couple of others in each class, the four I purposely showed them were: 1. Bullying; 2. Inside the Conclave; 3. Cheaters: Kindergarten to High School, College to Working World; and 4. Titanic by the Numbers.
In fact, when they saw these in class, some asked if they could try making ones of their own. I had already planned to have them read these book-length works, but the class comments led to this part III idea. It seemed to be especially fortutious a request as I'm drowning in paper, and the students will be weary of writing after completing three in-class essays in three weeks and taking the state-mandated standardized writing test before spring break. 
The librarians and I are working up the parameters this week so students will have them as they begin reading. My initial thoughts are the groups will divvy up and create chapter/section infographics that depict the author's claims and data for small sections of the group. Then they will come together, share their individual graphics, and collaborate on one that represents the work as a whole. I like the individual assignment and the group assignment combination because it keeps one person from creating while everyone else watches. There's still a risk of that on the group infographic, but I'm hoping that by sharing individual ones first, there's more collaboration on the final.
Part IV: Publish and present.
Once the group infographic is complete, the groups will publish their work. Again, I suspect this will be on a a Blackboard wiki, which isn't my ideal, but will allow them to share both individual and group infographics. Some of the groups are larger, at 6-8 students. So, I'll probably break them into groups of 3-4, which will allow for some comparisons between groups and between classes. I might allow for a physical gallery walk of the graphics by reserving a laptop cart or part of the library and letting kids wander through and look at their peers' work, too.
Part V: Comment and reflect.

My intention is to require individuals (or maybe the groups) to comment on the infographics created by the other groups. Thus, students will be exposed to each of the arguments through this data and will have to engage with it beyond passive consumption. Then, individuals will reflect in their blogs about the project and process.
Only one student hasn't chosen a book, yet. Between my two classes, all of the books have book groups, which surprised me.

Between all 5 parts, I expect the project to take until April 22. Most of the work will be upfront; the reading and individual infographics have April 3 and April 9 deadlines.

If this works well, I'll probably do it again next year, but earlier in the year. I can see this as a good springboard to argument writing and creation of research based-infographic projects, as I'm largely asking them to create products that depict arguments.

Here's to another experiment!

The books:
Poverty and social class
1.        The Rich and the Rest of Us by Cornell West and Tavis Smiley, published in 2012, 232 pages
2.        The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty by Peter Singer, published in 2009, 240 pages
American culture
3.        Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson. published in 2006, 254 pages
4.        Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes, published in 2012, 288 pages 
5.        Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes, published in 2012, 304 pages
6.        Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, published in 2013, 256 pages
Education and psychology
7.        The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan, published in 2012, 272 pages
8.        How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough, published in 2012, 256 pages


  1. I hope you'll share the end results - this is a challenging yet meaningful project. And in every post I love your links!

    1. I will if I am able. I will likely ask the kids for permission to post some!

      My librarian worked up a structure for the actual infographics assignment. She and I may have to evaluate, tweek, and try a second time. I think there's a presentation in here...