Opinions Are Like… Ideas And Problems: Everyone’s Got ‘Em

In a stack of papers called Technology.

  • Jan
  • 12
  • 2006

Last week, we finished off the week in English 3 with a sort of discussion about some quotations that I’d handed out at the beginning of our Crucible unit (or is it “at the beginning of our The Crucible unit”? oh, the things that drive English teachers crazy). We didn’t huddle our desks together and go round robin with everyone’s response to the five most important quotations from Act Four, though I do that and have no problem with it. Instead, I gave each group one of the five quotations and they needed to respond on an overhead and quickly present this to the class. Everyone was to take notes since the final response to the quotations was due on Monday. In order to have more ideas to consider, take notes, right?

I had an idea and a problem that came out of this.

The Idea

All of the notes on the overheads got together on a little Web page, which I thought was awful nice and organized of them. I began class on Friday with that page on all the computers in the room and gave everyone time to wander to the computers and to be reminded of what their period talked about the day before and to see what the other English 3 I have thought about the same quotations. Of course, I forgot to link to that in School Loop or anywhere else, so the students really only had access to that on Friday, but my forgetfulness can be the topic of another post.

And the light of obviousness shone down upon me as I scurried from computer to computer at the beginning of class to get each screen showing the same page: a wiki would have made this easier.

I set up a Word document on my computer the day before and most of the notes were entered by students taking turns typing their thoughts into the document. I entered the rest after school that day. But a wiki would have been readily available to everyone, I wouldn’t have had to link to it, I wouldn’t have had to enter anything in myself, and it would have been a complete and total creation of the students (something I’m always excited to see).

The Problem

I found most of the interpretations of the quotations to either be way to surface level or completely incorrect, demonstrating a total lack of understanding about the words. Ouch. I thought I do a fair job with the text, but it seems like this year didn’t go so well. Or maybe it’s just that the evidence of it not going so well was more apparent. Anyhow, the problem with something like a wiki is that one student’s poor interpretation of something is diseminated quickly and given more credence by virtue of it being published.

When I collected the final drafts of quotation work, lots of students had written the same things down, things that came directly from the notes we took together as a class. There was no further analysis, no expansion, no more explanation, no interpretation of the words at all. Plagarism? Perhaps, though I’m not too tied up about that one. Laziness? Definately.

In a classroom where the conversation is more open and free and left up to the students to direct, how does a teacher point out falicies or misunderstandings without then redirecting all of the seeming expertise to the teacher? I hate giving out answers to things, but also can’t stand it when a misinterpretation is propegated. If I set up a wiki, I’d want students to own that. I’d be a presence there, but no more valid than what anyone else has to say. Am I contradicting myself?

And this brings me back to the whole homework issue, one that’s obviously been on the front of my mind lately. How important is the work we assign? Did the students come to a better understanding of the play because they copied some notes into the computer and printed them out? Did it clarify things at all? And what difference does that make since we are now finished with the play? The quotation work I do has merit, but it just fell apart this year for me.

How we prepare students to think about the issues in class has a direct impact on the finished product. In the example of my quotation work, I hadn’t set up the idea that the notes were merely a starting point. Those notes ended up being the last stop before the final drafts were due and, as such, most students considered those notes a good enough interpretation.

The Challenge

Second semester puffs up its chest, stares at me, and offers a challenge. “What are you gonna do about it, huh foo?” It pushes me lightly on my left shoulder and I stagger backward a little, my right arm flying up a bit in the shove. I can’t let second semester dis me like dat, dawg. I gotta represent. Here’s to hoping I find a way to make things a bit better. Drink up, but poor a little on the curb for your hommies.

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