I Did It Again. I Made Something Too Complicated.

The novel study portfolio project I have planned needs a lot of work to be effective for the students. The project should be fun, thought-provoking, and memorable — not painful. As always, when faced with a quandary, I blog about it.

Holy Post-It® Notes! Look at what I did to a very good book.

To introduce the novel study portfolio project to my AP ®Lit students, I decided to create one of my own. I’m glad I did because I saved myself and my students a great deal of frustration. I saved myself a good deal of embarrassment, too. In the image above, I captured how the book I’m reading, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, now looks after I used almost an entire pack of Post-It ®Flags to help myself remember everything. My husband actually laughed at me when he saw the book.

“Heather, your kids aren’t in graduate school, and you aren’t either,” he said. He still remembers my days on end in front of the computer, researching, writing, and having NO FUN AT ALL.

Fair enough. We are supposed to help students find joy in reading great literature, not induce panic attacks. Besides, my hand hurts and the image below shows why.

My hand hurts from writing and rewriting these notes. More importantly, do I need to remember all of this stuff? Why am I rewriting the novel?

I love this book. I posted in an AP ®Lit teacher’s group that I’m exhausted thinking about it, but that I am in love. My approach to these things, however, is not going to work for 16–18 year-olds. I will end up making what should be transformative into something that reaffirms why they don’t want to read: It’s too hard.

That runs contrary to my teaching goals and philosophy in many ways. I want students to find reading great literature to be a refuge, a way to immerse into another world for a time, to think deeply and openly about how the words on the page can possibly change their lives and why that is important. I want their interaction with literature to be risk-free, a beautiful experience. Yes, some may need experience with several tools to reach that point with literature, and others may need experience with those tools to make the experiences even richer. But none of them need to actually fear the work involved; instead, they should look forward to the process. They should get the point and be able to answer a basic question: “Why should I do this?”

“What Were You Trying to Do?”

AP ®Lit is a demanding course, and there is not a lot of time to do anything (Ssh, don’t tell the College Board I said that). To expose the students to a variety of novels, I created the novel study portfolio project that the students will complete three times, once every three units, at home. Meanwhile, in class, we will complete units on short fiction, poetry, and longer fiction. The longer fiction units will focus on drama instead of novels because it is better to work on a drama together, I think. At the end of the longer fiction units, students will submit their portfolio.

The portfolio has several components:

  • Reader’s journal (the second image in this post shows my attempt at a reader’s journal)
  • An annotated bibliography for three articles about the book. These articles need to be from peer-reviewed journals. Ideally, the articles will demonstrate analyses of the novel through various critical lenses. We will discuss what that means and search for articles together while in class, which will make that process much easier.
  • Two responses to Free-Response prompts. We have a document of prompts used in past exams from which the students can choose, which is cross-referenced with a list of novels used in past exams and the years in which they were used. These responses will be drafted, revised, and edited. All versions will be submitted. Peers will then evaluate the responses and use the rubric to assign a score. Before turning in the responses, the students will create a final draft using feedback from their peers.

What’s the POINT?

As I was bike riding today, I revisited this assignment and asked myself what I really want the students to do and WHY. I was thinking about the unit planning acronym I’m using this year called POINT (Purpose, Objectives/Standards, Indicators of Learning, Negotiables, and Tasks/Steps). Thinking about what and why also reminded me of literary analysis and annotation of texts. What are we looking for when we annotate a text? We are looking for the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY. Eventually, these thoughts come together to help us understand themes, and they help us to write better thesis statements.

A new reader’s journal idea was born, and I think it’s better. A sample entry shows in the image above. My recommendation to the readers is to read first, only stopping to put a flag on something they find incredibly significant. Then, they can reflect on their reading using the reader’s journal.

Below, I have included an image of a blank chart. Students can handwrite or type their notes. I prefer to take notes by hand. Students may actually want to take notes by hand, too, if only to take their eyes off the computer for a while.

WHAT — What happened? Briefly describe what happened that struck you as important.

HOW — How was the “what” conveyed? Include your “quote jimmies”! I’m from Philadelphia, so they aren’t sprinkles. “Quote jimmies” are a few words, not entire sentences or paragraphs that can be woven into an analyst’s original sentence to prove a claim.

WHY — Why is it important to remember and process the WHAT and HOW? In other words, try to answer the question, “So what?”

At the top of the page, I included the codes for the Big Ideas of AP ®Literature: Character, Setting, Structure (Plot), Narration, Figurative Language, and Literary Argumentation. We will be visiting these Big Ideas continuously. Keeping these codes on the page may help the students to integrate them into their thinking.

What Do YOU Think?

Am I on the right track? Will this new format help students deepen their love and appreciation of literature, which will help them better understand the human condition and their place within the human family? Please feel free to comment below.

Originally published at https://heatheredick.wordpress.com on August 18, 2020.

Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash

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