American Literature students have an opportunity to demonstrate their learning over the course of the semester through the American Literature Exhibition Project. This project encourages students to connect the culture, history and literature studied to the themes of our study. The organizing themes are colonization, imperialism, westward expansion, cultural pluralism, and pre-industrialization. The time frame is from colonization to 1900.
In order to provide practice in research and to introduce PowerPoint, students complete the "What happened on your birth date" research activity during the beginning of the semester. Through this activity, students are introduced to the tools of research: developing questions, locating information, using internet search engines, evaluating sources, and documenting research. They then organize their information to present as a PowerPoint presentation. This phase of the research activity gives them an opportunity to write for another purpose: a real audience! Developing a multimedia presentation using PowerPoint software requires them to rewrite for this purpose. They are given a few graphic design pointers, and are reminded that the text is what is essential. The graphics and sounds must enhance the audience's understanding of their information. Their presentation also includes a comparison of source information and an evaluation of the sources compared. The students evaluate their sources on the basis of authority, reliability, credibility, and currency.
At the beginning of the second quarter, students are formally introduced to the American Literature Exhibition project. We begin in small groups exploring what we know, want to know, what we learn, and how we can learn more. This is the KWL-H activity. Within the groups, students take on specific roles with specific tasks associated with them, i.e., director, recorder, reporter, illustrator, connector. The end product is a visual representation that each group shares with the class. Students are encouraged to add new information to their own KWL-H charts that they had created before the small groups formed. Following these presentations, each student then conducts preliminary research on two of the topics. For each of the two topics, they formulate three questions, locate a source for each question, and summarize the information from each source. The students then select one of the two topics as their area of research and are ready for the next phase of their inquiry. The next phase is to look at their topic in light of the literature, culture (Dominant American Values) and the history of the period. As they move into this stage, they complete a Project Checkpoint handout that communicates to me their topic, their objectives or goals for their project, the results of their preliminary research, questions or observations they have about their research thus far. I also ask them to think about how they might present this information-given that their PowerPoint Presentations were successful, many think they will construct one for their exhibition. In addition to studying a topic of their choice, students will learn and practice information literacy skills, computer skills, and presentation strategies. Constructing and presenting an American Literature Exhibition will serve as the final exam for the American Literature course.
This is where my project is at this point. I hope to include student samples of PowerPoints, preliminary research charts, and their Project Checkpoints. One other component of my project was a class web page that would inform parents and students of the course and work expected for this quarter. I wanted to develop a database-driven web page, but will save that for another semester! Instead, I signed onto Highwired.com and posted my information there. I've included a link in the Hot Links section.
Some closing thoughts . . .
In addition to studying a topic of their choice, students will learn and practice information literacy skills, computer skills, and presentation strategies. One of my other goals was to develop a curriuclum framework, and this project has given me a beginning.
In retrospect, while I think that I would have organized the project in the same way, I know that the readings and discussions during CETR influenced or supported my classroom choices.
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