Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Lesson on How it Should Have Ended...

In the Michigan Curriculum for English Language Proficiency Standards for K-12 (pdf) there are two standards for Reading that form the basis of a common learning activity:
  • R.8 Make inferences, predictions, and conclusions from reading
  • R.9 Analyze style and form of various genre
In many classrooms students get assigned the task to create an alternative ending to a story, play, or other form of literature. Sometimes there is the restriction to maintain the integrity of the genre for the story; other times students are free to transform the story into another genre while maintaining the integrity of the story. R8 and R9 have their fraternal twins in other states, and perhaps other countries. The task for alternative endings equally has its familiar incarnations.

As with any concept, students learning effectiveness increase when they find connections to the task, and/or are given options from which a student finds a pathway appealing. I saw this represented in a high school class studying Shakespeare's Othello. In one pivotal scene, Othello spies Iago conversing with Cassio. The two men talk of Cassio's romance with Bianca. Othello believes that the woman spoken of is not Bianca, but his wife Desdemona, which inflames Othello's jealousy and steers him towards a dark and tragic path.

The assignment for the students was to collaborate in teams and come up with a modern version of that scene.
  • One team had Iago sitting before a laptop using Skype (See VoIP Software) to talk to Cassio who's face is on the screen. Iago wears headphones so that Othello, hiding out of sight of the webcam, can only hear Iago's part of the conversation. With Iago's ill intent, you can imagine what he says that will ignite Othello's jealousy.
  • Another team set the scene at a basketball game. Cassio and Iago talk adamantly in the stands, as Othello sits in the stands directly across the court from them. Iago and Othello text each other regarding the conversation. Once again, Othello is seething.
A different approach is having students write alternative endings. Or as the following option demonstrates, let learners produce them. Here are two examples from Twilight and Lord of the Rings. Both not only change the ending while staying within genre, setting, and situation, they incorporate a humor that enhances the changes while staying true to the story. What literary analysis might be included to mine the thinking of students if they made similar learning artifacts?

Here's one more to make the point (More found at How It Should Have Ended):

What's great about these tasks is that those students or communities with the resources can choose these tasks. If there are students who do not have the resources, nor a manageable way to get access to the resources, a low tech or no tech option is provided as a choice for everyone.

I'm curious about other ways students are encouraged to be innovative in their thinking. What, perhaps, have some seen or heard about...?