I’m just a little proud of this one. My creative writing classes are a lot of fun to teach, but they also occasionally exemplify the cooperative learning that I’m looking to apply in other courses. Here is a layout of how I achieved what I think is one of the best demonstrations of students working together towards a single, group-oriented goal:
Step 1: Class character voting- Toward the beginning of the year, I have my students submit “narrators” for our stories. They all write a name and a one sentence description of this character. We vote on the winners and end up with two “protagonists” and two “antagonists.”
Step 2: A few weeks later, I put the characters on the board and we decide a few more things about them (background, ethnicity, fears, etc.)
Step 3: I form three random groups of ten. Each of these groups is reminded (via Powerpoint) of the characters we group-created earlier in the year. After being reminded of these details, they are tasked to brain storm a possible story combining these characters in creative ways.
Step 4: Assignment: Each member of their group must write a two page part/scene in the plot that they have mapped out as a group. I ask them all to understand the characters, the plot, and to work together in forming a cohesive story that flows and effectively ends up being a short novella.
Step 5: Adding in a Lesson on Genre – Before they begin, I have them think about what “style” or “genre” they’d like to write in. While these lines are mostly defined for book stores, it does help students to get a feel for what genre they want to write. Adventure/Steampunk/Fantasy are the most common choices.
Step 6: Adding in a Lesson on Query Letters – I have my students study actual query letters that worked (Chuck Sambuchino’s “Successful Queries” series provides a lot of resources). After reading these examples, they all write a query for the novel that they have in the works. After a few rounds of editing, they submit these to me. This year, we had an actual literary agent read through the top three letters in order to give some feedback to students.
Step 7: Write. This is what I’m watching right now, today, as my class takes this project on. Students making their own Google groups in order to message one another as they type their projects. Students consolidating ten or more documents into a single Google Doc. Students communicating about plot holes that have arisen. Students critiquing one another’s work. Students reminding one another of the plot twists, storylines, and decisions they’ve made as a group about how the story will unfold. Students helping to dig each other out of the ruts of writing block, “What if he dropped the scepter instead?” And even students taking a group-wide vote on how to properly spell the name of their protagonist, Jeff Lemonjelly(i?). I know it might seem like an every day thing, but it’s just not. To have a group of ten students working in almost seamless accord? To have students making the decision to access technologies to make their combined project more effective and realized? These are not the common decisions I see in school every day.
This is just one of many examples. I’m still trying my best to find ways to establish this kind of educational practice in my English classes. Especially in academic courses, there is a tendency to not want to work together or enjoy the work the way I’m seeing my current Creative Writing students do it. My hope is to continue to find ways to move us into 21st century learning models.