Friday, October 27, 2017

Reflections on OESIS Boston: Humanities without Textbooks & Bringing Poetry to the MakerSpace

Two weeks ago, I attended the OESIS conference in Boston, MA, and I’m still processing all the things I learned over such a short period of time. I had the privilege of sitting on two panels, one on online collaboration and another on student agency, as well as presenting with my colleague, Joel Garza, on some of our previous collaborative projects.

I wanted take a moment to share some notes and observations about a couple sessions I attended that relate to English instruction (Also, for more reflections on OESIS Boston, check out the article just published by Global Online Academy, The Power of Networks: 10 Ways Schools Are Tackling Innovation):

1. Humanities without the Narrative by Deborah Shaul from La Jolla Country Day School

Deborah’s session was about blending a US History curriculum with an American Literature class without using an anchor textbook for the course. When Deborah ditched the textbook, it freed her to approach the content in a less linear fashion, and instead, scope and sequencing were often shaped or influenced by the interests and choices of the students as they immersed themselves in a deeper, more interconnected investigation of American literature and history. As she stressed, by allowing to make more choices as to what primary documents they wanted to research, the teacher and the author of the textbook were no longer the “keeper of the keys” to the narrative. One thing I appreciated about Deborah’s session was her candidness about student and parent responses, which were not always positive. Doing away with the textbook created fear and anxiety for some. They weren’t always sure what to study or how to do so, but I think such push back always happens when we truly turn over agency to students in relation to their learning. Why do some students prefer having a textbook?

(a) It serves as a security blanket because the answers are explicitly provided
(b) Students don’t always trust their own answers nor those of their peers
(c) It’s easier to perform well on a test when one can memorize pre-packaged content

She surveyed her students, asking them how they prefer to learn, and Deborah was a little disappointed to see that many students still prefer lecture/power point formats. However, I think it’s important to step back and ask ourselves: are students conflating “getting good grades” with learning? Perhaps the survey results reflect that kind of confusion that one would expect from the average independent school learner whose main priority is his or her transcript.

If you have more questions, you can reach out to Deborah at @Dshaul3.

2. Discovering Poetry Through Maker-Space Projects by Amy Alsip from The Oakridge School

Amy shared with us a project she did where students made poetry as well as artifacts inspired by their literary creations in the context of a MakerSpace. One through-line I noticed that connects Amy’s project to Deborah’s curricular innovations was the role of student agency in each scenario. Students would enter the MakerSpace, and there were several stations/choices for poetry creation:

(a) Dice Roll haikus
(b) Using book spines to create poetry
(c) Using the name of paint samples to create poetry
(d) “Blackout poetry” using markers and a found text (like a newspaper)
(e) Using scrabble games to construct poetry
And there were a few more stations that escape me now…

Amy Alsip presenting her poetry/maker project at OESIS Boston
Students would then share their 20+ poetry creations with peers to get feedback. Once they had selected their favorite 3-5 poems, each poet would return to the MakerSpace to create an artifact inspired by the poem in question, and once again, they had many options:

(a) Coding
(b) Sowing
(c) 3D Printing
(d) Repurposing found materials
(e) Circuitry Boxes
(f) Legos
Again, I believe there were 1 or 2 more options that I cannot recall now

The whole project culminated in a poetry read-aloud night at the school for the community to attend. Of course, the students got to showcase their fabrications as well. As an English teacher, I like how a project like this reminds us that English classes have always been spaces for making.

If you have more questions, you can reach out to Amy at @amyalsip.

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