Saturday, April 9, 2016

Planning The Oakridge School's 2017 Inter-Institutional Colloquium on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Entry 1, April 9, 2016

The Oakridge School is excited to announce that we will be hosting the 2017 Colloquium on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first published in 1818 nearly 200 years ago!

This is going to be the first entry in a series of posts about the steps we'll be taking as a community to plan the 5th inter-institutional paper colloquium for high school students in the surrounding metroplex area of North Texas. Since one of my goals this year is to expand the reach of this collaboration both geographically and digitally, I almost hesitate to specify our regional location, but the schools of Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, and the surrounding area are the reason this practice is now in its 5th iteration. It's a privilege to be a part of a community where there's so much trust and collegiality.

What do we mean by a student-centered, inter-institutional colloquium?

Before the 2012-2013 school year, I began having conversations with Joel Garza of Greenhill School and Deborah Moreland formerly of The Hockaday School about the idea of hosting a colloquium at the The Oakridge School's campus where students from multiple schools would read the same text, submit papers by a certain deadline, and attend a paper conference with workshops for students to present their ideas and have conversations together (much like we do at the collegiate and professional level). We all recognized the many benefits of pursuing such a project: (1) students could practice public speaking; (2) there would be an authentic audience for students' writing, making the learning experience more meaningful and relevant to them; (3) we would be modeling what higher level scholarship looks like; (4) this would break schools out of their silos (such as campuses, departments, and classrooms) and facilitate purposeful collaboration.

After sharing and stretching ideas with Joel Garza and Deborah Moreland (as well as other teachers from various schools), a call for papers came together which focused on the collection of short stories, Dubliners, by James Joyce. Here's a trailer of the culminating event:

Of course, so much went on (in terms of work and collaboration) prior to the filming of this video that made the event you just witnessed as successful as it was. We set up a blog, for instance, to instigate collaboration and interaction between campuses months before the gathering ever took place. Go here to get a much more detailed version of the story (especially if you want to learn more about how we used tech tools to collaborate across campuses a-synchronistically in anticipation of the future colloquium...)

For the 2013-2014 school year, The Oakridge School hosted another event, this time to investigate William Shakespeare's play, Richard III.  Once the call for papers was distributed, several schools, including Hockaday and Greenhill, returned to participate again, and we added new elements to the program by inviting Drama/Theatre departments to participate as well as historical and archeological inquiry in honor of the recent successful dig to rediscover the Yorkist ruler's remains.

Since then, the tradition has continued to grow. Last year, Gary Nied of Cistercian Preparatory School organized a colloquium on Flannery O'Connor's short stories hosted by his campus in the fall of 2014, and most recently Joel Garza of Greenhill School hosted a "Midwinter" colloquium on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, an event that just took place last February bringing together theatre, dance, literary discourse, and many other interdisciplinary activities. The tradition continues to evolve as more campuses are getting involved and more disciplines are being brought into the fold. Again, my hope is to welcome even more students and faculty from other areas who can join the fun this year (or in the future), even if that means being a remote participant using digital platforms and tools.

What have we done so far for next year's gathering?

Last February, I decided it was time to start reaching out to faculty, campuses, and various departments about planning the next student-centered paper colloquium for the spring semester of 2017. The first question, of course, was what text, theme, or topic did we want to focus on? Considering how the conferences had grown, what other elements would we want to include (in the past there's been acting workshops, archeological presentations, slam poetry sessions, creative writing workshops, and so on...)? What other departments did we want to invite (considering that most of us involved are English teachers or department heads)? Also, how could we get more schools and students to participate? Instead of answering such queries in isolation, I set up a google doc, data-mined emails, and blasted a message to the surrounding community with a link to the document which was created to facilitate a collaborative approach to planning. (Please go here to see the doc; it shows how amazing a conversation can be when everyone adopts a collegial spirit of wanting to work together to do something bigger than what can be done by one person, school, or classroom...)

Once the google doc had lived for about a month, I consolidated everyone's comments into 4 options for the topic of next year's colloquium:

1. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (200 year anniversary is 2018; nice intersection of issues such as tech, otherness, gender)
2. a selection of science fiction texts (a handful of short stories and/or novellas)
3. a selection of texts about totalitarianism & politics (perhaps 1984, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, Handmaid's Tale)
4. Chicago Then, Chicago Now (an examination of Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun & Wright's Native Son)

I set up a google form (which can be found here), and around 25 respondents from 12 different campuses voted on what they thought would be the best selection. Here's the breakdown of the results:

I'm excited to announce that next year's colloquium will be revisiting Mary Shelley's Frankenstein nearly 200 years after its first date of publication, and the outcome of the survey was based on the insights and opinions of faculty and administrators from the following schools: All Saints' Episcopal School of Fort Worth, Cistercian Preparatory School, Dallas International School, The Episcopal School of Dallas, Fort Worth Country Day School, Greenhill School, The Oakridge School, Parish Episcopal School, St. Mark's School, Southwest Christian School, Trinity Valley School, and Ursuline Academy of Dallas. How many out there already read this canonical classic in your curricula? Why not join our collaborative conversation??

What do we plan to do next?

1. The next thing we plan to do is establish a date for the colloquium (most likely late January or early to mid February 2017) as well as a due date for student submissions to present papers.
2. We also need to craft a call for papers, and judging from the 2nd pie graph above, there are many participants who are eager to contribute ideas for prompts. Most importantly, I want to make the call for papers as inclusive as possible in terms of disciplines and student interests.
3. We need to reach out to more schools to expand the community of collaborators. (Let us know if you're interested! Geography is not an obstacle considering our access to technological tools.)
4. Speaking of technology, I want this collaborative, communal investigation to begin sooner than later, so we plan to set up a blog or wiki site such that students and faculty from various campuses and classrooms can begin to collaborate, share ideas, and post demonstrations of learning in various mediums well before we meet for the colloquium.

I will continue to post entries as we journey through this adventure together. If there's interest to join our investigation (even if it means only collaborating digitally on the forthcoming webpage or having a student skype in his or her presentation at the event), please contact me so we can connect. I'm already looking forward the 2017 spring semester!

Jared Colley