CYOA Days 3 and 4: Creating an overview

Yesterday I attended an RtI conference so I had my students in my absence type up their free writes so I had nice written versions of them.  Today when I got back I handed each group a big sheet of paper (I have a big honking roll) their typed up freewrites and instructions to cut and paste their typed up outlines onto the big paper.  If parts of their outlines still needed to be typed up, they should copy their outline in pen (or sharpie) onto the big paper in English. The finished product ended up looking like this:

You’ll see here a messy mix of lines, printouts and notes.  Just how I like it.  Because the scope of this project makes it easy for people to loose track of where they are, I can look at the above and see exactly what needs to still be done.  For things that are typed up, I’m happy with it.  If they have things written in pen, then that’s where they need to work next.  Now when it comes time to do another freewrite I’ll just tell people to go look at their poster hung on the wall and see what still needs work.

This is also useful as a means of getting an idea of what needs a little bit of expansion.  In the following outline, most everything was all typed up, but some areas needed a little work yet.

If some descriptions look a little thin, I just put a black asterix next to that part so they can tell what still needs doing.

After having done this, I think that for the next round of freewrites and re-writes, I won’t have them type up the descriptions yet, but we’ll just cut out the freewrites they do in hand directly to the wall.  This way we can fill our holes better and move along more quickly to the next stage, which involves getting pictures to illustrate these mini-episodes.  On Monday we’ll walk in, pull the posters off the wall and have each group start with a five minute free-write to quickly patch the narrative holes.  Then I’ll have them sit down and figure out what pictures they’ll need to take on Tuesday, what props they’ll need to bring, and who can bring a camera. If we have any time left, we’ll grab a couple cameras I’ll have onhand and start taking pictures right away.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but the work is done much more on their part than mine; my job is to be a project manager that keeps everything moving along.  The real concern I have is not so much the effort this requires, but rather the time taken away from CI discussions while doing them.  For myself, anyways, I have answered that question in two ways.  On the one hand, the product of these stories when finished is a very useful tool for me to use with my students of all levels next year, where I can get several days of compelling reading in because it is student generated.  On the other hand, the process is very very satisfying for the students because they see what they can actually do with the language and pay it forward for other classes down the road.  My graduating seniors like being able to “leave their mark” on this project, and I like to give a copy of these stories to my graduating seniors as a parting gift. At this time of year I’m less concerned about using every last minute as I am about creating an indelible final impression of the school year that sticks with people.


3 responses to “CYOA Days 3 and 4: Creating an overview

  1. I cannot even describe how much reading these COYA posts has inspired me, just in the last half hour… I’m a university TA, teaching Spanish as part of my financial aid package, and I’m mandated a specific writing assignment to give my students (in the name of ‘standardization,’ since personalization and differentiation are pretty much thrown out at the post-secondary level). I hate the assignment, but handed it as-is to my students last semester. I think this would be the perfect way to ‘adapt’ the assignment while keeping it close enough to the original to satisfy the coordinator. It would also provide material for future students to read (as well as being a more interesting addition to my professional portfolio than the bland page-and-a-half essays I received this spring).

    I’m also thinking about buying some of the Elige tu propia aventura books and seeing if they would be something I could read in class. Do you have any (though not in Spanish, obviously)? What inspired you to create this project?


  2. Whoops, *CYOA.


  3. Hi Lake,

    I got the idea for this project when I found a similar project posted online done by a German school. In it the kids went through the entire school and created a story that branched into alternately a murder mystery or a love story. It was very well done, and I said “Hey I can do that.” I had a group of only 7 German III/IV students (it was my first year teaching) and I just turned them loose on it. What looked easy was, however, a pain, because I hadn’t counted on the absolute skill high schoolers have developed in stretching out a project over several days beyond what it should because they find little ways to waste time and explore all the extraneous sideroads that are out there. In the end, we spent a ton of time planning, very little time writing, and I ended up doing most of the writing that made it to the next class.

    Much of my process with the butcher paper and the tight deadlines has evolved as a way to avoid that tortured process again while still getting a nice amount of work done. I’m still not convinced that I’m getting the full return on my investment yet, but it’s worth it to me during the last three weeks of school because I’d rather be reining in too much energy at this time of year than pulling teeth. I’m very encouraged by what I’m seeing Laurie do in creating a quicker format on a PowerPoint so as to get better classroom return off of it. But we’ll see. This year’s stories are SO much better than anything I’ve seen in the past, and the German used is actually quite impressive.

    Thinking about your specific situation, I have a few concerns about adapting this project to the post-secondary level that won’t necessarily deep six your project but would need to be addressed if you don’t want to end up tearing your hair out.

    1. Students have a really hard time wrapping their brains around what you’re asking for without seeing what’s going on first. Even describing it several times is tough. I can show them past projects and they catch on pretty well, but you might want to work through Laurie’s PowerPoint with them first so they get an idea what you are talking about. Look for PP Enrique el Increíble

    2. The success of this for me this year is predicated on the fact that they are already strong writers as a result of having had several years of comprehensible input and the fact that they are used to the free write format. I’ve done this in the past with non-strong writers and they turned this into an eternal project where they sink time into everything BUT writing, making it not justify its time investment. Weak writers under these conditions reach for the online translators; students with huge vocabularies used to writing quickly just write. Judge where your class is at before committing. Don’t even try this with 1st semester students, and I’d be skeptical about second semester students as well. Third or Fourth semester students would probably be all right, but you would still likely have to ride herd on the process (no getting around that at any level).

    3. At the secondary level I can do this project in 2-2.5 weeks because I have about 50 minutes a day to let the project breathe. At the university level where you only have them three times a week it can easily bust your time budget. Your students are likely better independent workers than your average high school student, but this does take time to make it work, and if you have to keep up with a pre-determined test schedule that you have to prepare them for it can be tough (I was a German TA for 3 years and know what that environment can be like).

    If you think you will do it, save yourself some headache by a) minimizing the amount of storylines by creating large groups and b) getting your visuals from internet pictures or class illustrations. Those aren’t as fun as a full out photo project, but you at this stage are more about making the project work than creating the perfect scenario. Students at any level are notorious for being lousy at working in groups, so you will need to assign roles: everybody has to brainstorm and create the outline, everybody has to write, but then you might have a few illustrators, a few picture finders, a few proofreaders and then a project scribe who constantly updates the overview so you can hold everybody accountable every day. Or you can do this as a whole class project initially and be that project scribe yourself.

    In summary, this project is easy to get overwhelmed on unless you have the time to invest into it, and time is the huge difference between the secondary and post-secondary level. Perhaps make your initial foray something along the lines of Laurie’s PowerPoint project where the students can just email you text and graphics (or turn it in through an online class management system). Keep it simple the first time you try it and then grow it from there. That would give you something solid for your portfolio and success right off the bat, and then you can implement a fuller scale project in later semesters or once you land at the secondary level.


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