A Separate Peace – Iron Teacher Submission

Here was the challenge

The Challenge (as defined by the teacher): Students are beginning a book discussion of the novel A Separate Peace. These particular students struggle to demonstrate understanding of content through writing, but have recently become more motivated to read and respond to literature as their teacher has incorporated audio books and modern literature into the curriculum.

The teacher shares that the class performs better when asked to discuss personal experiences and would like to incorporate the book themes of envy/conformity into the book discussions. These students in particular are not easily motivated to participate in class activities. Their teacher is looking for an original and fun way to have the students discuss and share while demonstrating understanding in a way that goes beyond writing an essay or taking a multiple choice test.

So here’s my attack, and it’s one I’ve done before but I wanted to work through this in a few different ways to show how you could use what students are doing now with Facebook (and other services) to get them both analyzing and empathizing with the characters.

Priming the Pump

First, I’d start off by having the students discuss the subtle (and not so subtle) ways people play mind games on sites like Facebook (like cutting people out of photos, top friends lists, snide comments, that type of thing). I’d probably do this as a think-pair-share. Might be worth saying come up with 5 good examples. This is just a quick thing to get them thinking1.

If you want to start with an example, my cousin (HS student) had some pictures posted and had cropped some of her friends(?) out. The comments under the picture went like this-

Jane Doe at 4:55pm February 18
YOU CUT OUT me and X and Y and Z.

My Cousin at 4:59pm February 18

I’d dramatize that a bit more but you get the idea. It leads to questions like-

  • What does it mean to cut someone out of a picture?
  • What does it mean if you get left in?
  • Does this apology matter?
  • Does the heart make it more sincere?
  • What do caps mean, if anything?
  • Does the speed of the reply matter?

I’m going to imagine they’ll have lots of examples. I’d probably have them list some on the board. You can do this before the book starts and have them start thinking early or do it after the first chapter and then have them work back through it.

Various Depths
Depending on what you’re looking for and your computer access here are a few varieties you could go with.

  1. Facebook Picture Comments (less involved)- An image that is representative of the chapter is posted. Initially you might choose the image and who posted it but I’d move that responsibility to the students rather quickly. I’d probably have consistent groups assigned to each character and in charge of “speaking” for him. I’d pass the image posting responsibility around. The image group would have to explain why they chose to post that particular image, how it represented what their character would do and explain why he would do it.

    You’ve got a variety of ways you can do this with computers- a simple blog, google docs, a wiki etc.

    Now, if you don’t have any computers in your classroom it’s fairly easy as well (and might, in some ways, be more engaging). I’d take a big piece of chart paper and draw out a page template2. That’d be my background layer. It’d stay the same and it’d probably be good if it was laminated. Then you’d just tape a new image in each time and students would have sentence strips with tape to stick underneath the image as comments3 I’d take a picture of each finished portion if I’m doing things this way so that I’d have a way to refer back to them later.

    This version is pretty light on commitment. You could do it once, when things were bogging down to help generate discussion or you could do it through the whole novel. I like it because it’s flexible. I might do the same image at a variety of different times in the novel and see how much the comments change as the students start to understand the characters more fully and as the characters themselves develop. I could do it at the end of the novel and have each group choose a single photograph to represent the key turning point for that character. They put them on the wall or post them and then comment on each others photographs in character, responding to each other as their character would.

    The key here is, of course, to get them explaining why they’re making these decisions. The teacher needs to really question them about their character and his motivations.

  2. Facebook Profile – students create the Facebook profile page of their assigned character. This could be a one time thing or revisited occasionally (not very frequently). Once again, the activity would engage the students but the key would be in questioning their choices. It might be worth having groups do multiple profiles and then have them work together to create a combined page. That could lead to some interesting discussions.

    Here is a blanked out Facebook page for Gene that might get things started if you had students with an image editing program. Here’s the PS file<>footnote>Just click on the text layers, change the name and do a save as to make one for each character..

    Here’s a partially completed Word version. Essentially, I put the image in, then dropped a big text box over it so it’d be hard to select it accidentally and began dropping smaller text boxes with the right color, size and font in the key locations for students to fill in. I’d take the time to get this pretty well set up for the students so their focus is on the content and not on the formatting etc.

    You’ve got options with all these projects. I might put the main characters’ names in a hat, enough for each student and have them draw. They each complete the assignment on their own and then get grouped by character in small groups (4 or 5 students at most) to create a group profile. Then they explain why they made their decisions and compare their choices with those made by other groups representing the same characters.

  3. Full On Facebook – (very involved) Essentially, each group gets a character. Their job each day is to create the entire online activity for that character. That includes everything from posting pictures, commenting, wall posts, to status updates, links, joining causes etc. Your character groups should interact with each other and change the pages in response to changes in the novel. For example, the students who jumped from the tree might have a group celebrating that, they’d join various causes related to the war etc. etc.

    If possible, I’d do this in Facebook. It’d be the easiest thing to do. I realize that’s highly unlikely in most schools. So here are a few other routes.

    The next easiest would probably be using a Ning site. You’d miss out on being able to theme it like Facebook but you could make it private etc. if that was needed for your own protection. It’d work ok.

    Another option would be an installation of WPMU and using BuddyPress. That’d give the right kind of functionality but would probably be more for someone who was interested in the tech side a little more. The benefits would be being able to control the look and feel to a much greater extent. There’s a Facebook based WordPress theme here. It’s good but not great. It’d be where I’d start if I was going to go that route.

    If you wanted to go the WordPress route but didn’t have WPMU and couldn’t install it, then you could do it using a few plugins (gravatars for example) and customizing the themes some. I did this in preparation for doing a similar project with Richard III4 but it was something of a pain.

    I don’t think many would want to do this without computers. It’s possible without them but would require a lot of dedication and wall space.

I’m not sure I’m heading down the right path or not. I had to hold back on creating the actual profile pages myself and building out the template etc. My goal is to keep this game sustainable for me. I’ll lay the ground work but I’m trying not to over commit. There’s a lot of good stuff in the construction that helps me when I’m considering a lesson. I have a tendency to do too much which hurts the process, I’m working on curbing that.

I’m trying to give some structure and offer some resources but not go all out with a lesson plan. With this particular challenge I think that’s the right thing to do. With other, more focused, objectives the lesson plan may be the way to go. I’m interested to see what Michelle, Todd and others will produce.

Hopefully this concept will bear some fruit and do some good in general. I think it’ll help me and produce some interesting ideas (although we do need to tighten up the contest concept a good deal more).

Let me know what you think.

1 You could make this more structured and choose specific psychological ploys from the book and ask for examples to be brought in representing them but not explicitly tying them to the story yet. You’ll also want to make sure they’ve been sanitized of names/real life associations to prevent classroom drama. I leave that up to you.

2 One easy way to do this for the artistically impaired would be to use an overhead and project a FB image page on the wall and trace out the basics.

3 It’d be pretty easy to add the avatar pictures as well for a little more realism.

4 The project never got rolling because the teacher’s children got chicken pox. That’s probably why it’s still in my head waiting for an excuse to come out.

3 thoughts on “A Separate Peace – Iron Teacher Submission

    1. Thanks Simon. Some of your stuff helped me finalize the idea. Nothing like harnessing distraction for good purpose.

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