With my Year 8 English class last term, we embarked on a novel study of Susan Cooper’s book King of Shadows. I’ve taught this novel for a number of years now, so it was time to try something new. Particularly in light of the ‘inquiry’ focus I’m looking to bring to this class. I decided I wanted to have the class make a website to reflect their knowledge and understanding of the text.
In terms of process, the plan I followed was to introduce the class to the kinds of websites students usually go to to access information about texts: Wikipedia, Shmoop, Sparknotes. We thought about what kind of information is on these sites, the language that is used, how the sites are organised and laid out. We considered what someone wanting to know more about our particular novel might be after. This brainstorm eventually generated our ‘to do list’ and the various tasks students completed to generate information for our website.
I did some lessons on digital citizenship. I tried to shift the focus away from the ‘don’t dos’ that the girls could easily and happily recite to me (‘Don’t post mean things’, etc.) and onto making a positive contribution to Internet-land.
We decided on an appropriate time frame, considering that the teacher, as editor, needed time to look over everyone’s work, and that the website designer in the class needed time to upload and format everyone’s work. Students nominated the tasks they most wanted to attack, and the partner they felt they would work well with. I collated this information and allocated tasks on this basis. We also had a go at co-constructing an assessment schedule. And then we went for it!
I was really excited to observe the engagement of the students in the task. They will openly and happily tell you that they didn’t especially love the book, but this didn’t stop them from being thoroughly engrossed in their work. They came into class and got started straight away – no need from prompting by me. They sought very little feedback from me in terms of clarifying their understanding of the task. If they asked, I simply asked a question of them: ‘What do you think someone visiting the website wanting more information about the book will want to know?’ No-one came back for more help after this.
I also liked that no-one blinked an eye when I sent work back to them for a second, third, fourth edit or proof-read. They accepted that if the work was being published for a genuine audience, it needed to be accurate and high quality.
The finished product is here. I’m very proud of what the class produced.
In terms of my reflection, there are two main areas I would want to improve upon if I used an activity like this again:
- More time on digital citizenship, and to co-ordinate better with the school librarian to deliver this.
- Better co-construction of the assessment schedule. I don’t know how to do this well, and the way I went about it meant both that the girls lost interest, and we didn’t end up with something they understood or could use to self/peer assess their work.
However, I surveyed the class at the end of the unit, and here are some highlights of what they said:
- I liked that “everybody had a part, each person was a piece of the puzzle. I also liked the ‘freedom’ of each task and independence.”
- “I found it interesting how the class is making a website to help others focusing on the book. Not just in NZ but the world.”
- I got a “better understanding of the book and I quite like the idea of it going ‘live’.”