Exploring Composition in the 21st Century

Submitted by Ron Hillman, English Teacher.

The project, “You can get anywhere from anywhere”, starts in the summer before learners begin AP Language and Composition. Students investigate a series of “explorations” found in “How To Be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith.. These “explorations” are writing, or rather thinking tasks, that involve interacting in the world with a focus on observation.  Examples might be to sketch all the cracks in a sidewalk or eavesdrop a bookstore conversation. Students document their experiences as part of their summer writing assignment.   

In the fall students chose one “exploration” to rewrite into a polished essay.  For example, one student addressed how “We live in a world filled with distractions.”  Over the next few weeks students refined their essays through drafting and peer feedback.  The students then presented the ideas of the essay in a 2 minute video.  They were given models, websites and resources they could use.  The parameters were broad and students made choices on a variety of issues for their video.  These included the type of video (wevideo, powtoon, goanimate etc.), the script, music or imagery. We took 3 days to screen all of the final products.  Students gave their peers immediate feedback on their work.  The last step was a self-evaluation of their entire project.

I hoped the open ended nature of the work forced them from writing for the teacher or crafting work to satisfy a rubric.  I hoped the project would inculcate confidence in their ability to make choices.  I wanted to model how a deep dive into drafting and revising creates a richer more meaningful product.  I wanted them to collaborate with each other as colleagues and peers.  My role in this process was to coach them and present options. The last goal was to introduce a problem without a ready solution. Students had to learn to make a video and use technology in new ways.  That problem solving, was part of the learning as well.  


Student Voices

I don’t think I’ve ever been so passionate about a project before. I just had a vision and wanted to execute it. I spent over 25 hours at least on the video, trying to make it as impactful as possible and something I wanted to share.-Danielle Rutledge

I thought it was very worthwhile. I learned a lot about video editing and revising. Mostly
revising. It took me 5 “final videos” to get my definite final video. It taught me to be patient
with the creative process and to not rush it; it takes some time to work everything out.-Lindsay Bowen

I found the video tedious to create, but I was proud of the final product. I made A LOT of changes to the video, which is why I think it turned into “something”.-Jacob Blank

I learned how to use a site I would have never used before and I found resources to create more videos for the future.  I also learned more about my own writing through the telling of my narration and it made me want to really do well.-Liam Peyton

It was one of those enjoyable creative experiences, especially coming up with clever/funny drawings and narration. It gave me a way to share my thesis of life-awareness, which I genuinely think people don’t consider enough, especially at my age.-Dennis Li

I liked creating the video, because it’s not something I normally get to do for school and can actually be kind of entertaining for a lot of people. We all got to think about something new and learn from each other which is always worthwhile.-Joy Kim


The Role ofTechnology

Without technology this project simply would not have been possible. Students used technology throughout.

All students use Chromebooks and it’s an essential aid.  To start, students produce a 4-slide screencast they share in google classroom.  They’re required to watch others and comment which begins the dialogue with each other.  I see through classroom student’s progress and can comment. When they return, collaboration through google docs allows for great peer feedback. They hone their essays, then convert their text into images, music, words. There is a lot of choice in creating a video representation of their work. Screening day(s) allow students to enjoy their achievements. Using google forms students provide each other immediate feedback.   

Students drive all of the choices, work as collaborators and have satisfaction in the process of creation. Through google docs, google forms, screencast, wevideo, google classroom, I can decentralize my influence and allow students to help each other and decide on solutions. All with the support of technology.

To visit student portfolios click here.