Sunday, December 14, 2014

Story Telling Moments - Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

In a previous post, I wrote about an"aha" moment, specifically the story telling/monologue project we did this semester. Students, for the whole-process project, composed and performed a first-person monologue. This assignment is based on So Say We All's Visual Audio Monologue Performance showcase. 

For this post, I reflect on what worked, what didn't, and how I might approach the project again. Two major threads of commentary follow, Show & Tell and Timing. 

Show &Tell, Part I:  Several veteran VAMP performers showcased their pieces for a couple of my classes. The most successful classroom presentations consisted of two readers sharing their stories followed up by a discussion of what it means to write. Sessions that featured only one monologist or did not include a discussion were less effective. Students got to experience what the final project should look like and received words of wisdom from actual writers, people they trusted more than me! Next time, more of the same, Paired with conferences if possible. 

In addition to live performance, So Say We All archived several showcases on Youtube (see below clip of Liz Huerta's "The Game"). I can use those clips to demonstrate if I can' get live performers.



Show & Tell, Part II: One of he most crucial parts of the VAMP process is the peer critique sessions, where the storytellers workshop their stories together. Once I realized (again!) that showing trumps telling, I had VAMP veterans demonstrate how to run a peer critique. I wrote about that process here and here. I'd do this again - in a hot minute. Sooner in the process. I have students from this year model the process for next semester's crew, and I plan to collaborate with the Writing Center to see if they can be of assistance. I know it's my responsibility to teach, but i also believe my job is to facilitate learning, even (and especially!) if it's not me up in front all the time.

Show & Tell, Part III: This semester's projects yielded several solid monologues, and I have access to first and final drafts. In addition, I can get copies of first and final drafts from VAMP veterans. I can use those drafts to show students how  monologues evolved from first draft through final revision, I can surely devise  an effective way to analyze before-and-after versions so students can see what it means to significantly revise a composition. 

Time for Reading:  I'm currently reading Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing. I'm intrigued by the seven different writing traits she unpacks in her book: ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, conventions, and presentation. I can definitely devise protocols for analyzing the different monologues for each trait's qualities. 

For instance, "ideas" has to do with topic.theme, focus, and development and details that support the topic/theme. If I were to devise a step-wise process to analyze different monologues for aspects of each traits, students could see what makes a good monologue. We can use the monologues as mentor texts! 

Time for Feedback:  I started with plenty of time. in fact, I stretched this project out the whole semester.  That wasn't a smart move. I let too much time pass between drafts. Partly because I was slow on providing feedback, partly out of insecurity that comes with experimenting with a new project. I tinker with my feedback process, streamlining it and combining super simple rubrics, mini-conferences, and multiple peer critiques. 

Time to Present: Sharing stories builds community. The vulnerability, hope, and simple joy of completing a sustained project did wonders for the class spirit. Partly, I assume, because it was the last project. Next semester, I will plot timeline so students present and share that sense of community and accomplishment earlier in the semester. Saving the presentations for the end put too much time between drafts and lessened the community building effect. 

Time to Present, Cont'd: As meaningful as the presentations were, having them back-to-back over three of four days made for sensory overload. Students were so worried about their own presentations. That and the pace of one-right-after-the-other performances meant folks weren't fully present for each others' talks. I need to be creative with scheduling, figuring out ways to spread the monologues over a longer period of time so fewer take place per period. Perhaps half the period for talks, the other half for instruction. Hopefully, having instruction paired with presentations will preclude students from cutting class if they've already presented. 

Time for Assessment/Self-Evaluations: I need to devise a stronger feedback/self-evaluation component. And I want to figure out what kind of quick formative assessments I can squeeze into the process. Perhaps build in some reflections throughout the process: viewing demonstrations, receiving the prompts, pre-writing, composing, participating in peer-critiques,  revising, editing, publishing, and performing. If I pose questions skillfully, students will have the raw material to compose a thoughtful, meaningful self-evaluation that rehearses lessons learned, scaffolds for a solid meta-commentary. And I want to build in a more interactive way for students to evaluate each other- instead of a pen-paper checklist. Perhaps I can figure out something digital?