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2012 January 8

Ways to respond to literature using New York Times models

Last November, the NY Times published an article about alternatives to the standard school book report for English classes: Beyond the Book Report: Ways to Respond to Literature Using New York Times Models.  I read the article then, and forwarded the link to my son, my wife (who supervises his humanities education), and my son’s consultant teacher.  I meant to blog about it right away, but it got buried in my over-100 draft posts of things I mean to blog about as soon as I have time.  The pointer just got forwarded to the other home-schoolers at Alternative Family Education, so it is past time for me to write this post.

The article offers 13 alternative assignments for the usual “book report” or “literary analysis” assignment (which I have ranted about before in posts like Death to high school English and Reluctant Writers).  I don’t know that we will use any of them exactly, but they did help spur some thinking about some of the assignments my son has done for his “Alternative Realities” English class so far this year:

  • description of the caste system in Brave New World
  • sociolinguistic analysis of NewSpeak in 1984
  • extra chapter for Alice in Wonderland, describing her adventures in a land that looks a lot like Minecraft
  • map of Gethen, the world (or part of the world) in Left Hand of Darkness
  • travel guide for Arde, the world in Planiverse

He has not been having the huge problems with writer’s block that he had last year.  I think that being able to craft his own style of response to each book (in consultation with his mother, who is choosing the books, discussing them with him, and giving him feedback on his drafts) has helped a lot in allowing him to keep moving on the assignments.  His consultant teacher has indicated that he needs to do six assignments each semester to get full credit for an English class, and he seems to be on track for that.  We’re thinking of a dramatic reading (with sound effects) for the 6th project.

He’s been doing writing in his other classes also.  His time-line for history class requires a lot of one-paragraph summaries, he’s done one lab report for physics (I should require a couple more), and he has been doing fairly detailed write-ups for his calculus homework sets (the Art of Problem Solving faculty provide feedback on the writing, so his math writing has improved enormously since he started precalculus with them last year). His science fair and robotics projects have not generated much writing yet, but he’s been keeping notes in his science-fair lab notebook and has a draft of the general introduction to his science fair project, so I’m hopeful that he’ll produce a decent report this year without too much prodding.  (His previous science fair reports are good, but took a lot prodding to get him to complete.)

Overall, I think that the writing he has done this year has been good for him and has not been much different in quantity than if he had been in school.  He’s felt less pressured about it, because each writing project has been one he has chosen, or at least agreed is a necessary component of something he has chosen.  We’ll see whether he can do the writing needed for the Shakespeare class he is taking this spring (in preparation for a trip to Ashland), or whether the prompts there turn out to be too inflexible for him.


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