Students working on a short story unit expect to spend a lot of time reading and analyzing the work of other authors. In Amanda Baker’s ninth-grade Honors Language and Literature class, they should expect to become short-story authors themselves.
Her project-based learning experience asks the question, “How can becoming an author affect the lens through which we critique literature?”
Students read classic short stories and discuss the author’s use of terms such as suspense, characterization, imagery and irony. Then they apply those concepts as a writer rather than a reader, and as project-based learning describes it, “deepen and strengthen how we analyze and critique literature.”
Baker elaborated in a district news release: “Last spring was the first time I structured the short story unit in this way. At the honors level, we needed to shake up this unit. I feel there has been a benefit for both me and the students. We are thinking about the stories in a different and more complex way while we are reading them, knowing that we will be emulating or surpassing what these authors have done at the end of the unit. “I learned in completing this project twice that students really rise to the occasion. They are using their critical eye that we have been honing in the creation instead of just the consumption of literature.”
Writing a quality story requires planning. Google Slides provides a tool for storyboarding the project with a template designed by Baker to encourage students to carefully consider the elements composing the page — image, text and literature terms, plus a diagram showing where the story is on the plot arc. Because they shared their templates with Baker, she reviewed and advised the students as they worked.
“I saw this at (the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference) last year and have been trying to incorporate it into my class,” she explained. “I think it’s powerful to be in the same document as students while they are working to provide feedback during creation instead of after. It keeps them on their toes because I can be in their documents at any time. I also like being able to watch their thought process unfold. This allows me to offer insight for students to consider before moving on.”
“It was convenient to have her looking at the storyboard while we worked on it because if we made a mistake, we could correct it right away,” student Ellen Zern said.
Finally, it was on to the actual book: a storywritten for elementary or junior high children, with illustrations, and with a focus on three of the literary elements that had been discussed in the critiques. With Book Creator, students pulled together a professional-looking product, with a cover and illustrations. Beyond colors and patterns for the pages, formatting options are limited, so students’ efforts are focused on content and basic layout rather than embellishment. Images can be imported; students can also create their own art and photography and add audio and video.
Julia Piatt enjoyed the work. “(It) made me realize that I really like writing,’’ she said, “and it could be something that I pursue.”