After grading and returning the research essays, I am always stunned to find I need one more short unit before the holiday break. It reminds me of how everyone wants to eat again on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Really? But didn’t the meal I spent weeks planning, preparing, and cleaning up for buy me some free time? What’s the lesson plan equivalent of ordering pizza?
My students greet a new assignment at this point with genuine shock: “But we just finished the research project!” I would joke with them and tell them I got special permission to not meet for classes the last week because they worked so hard, but I’m confident half of them would be out the door before I could stop them. I’m especially fond of my note taking unit at this point in the semester because it requires concrete skills and classroom focus. Also, it doesn’t create lots of complicated grading for me because after finishing the research process, I, too, feel like my IQ has been diminished.
However, sometimes I want a pre-vacation unit with a little more pizzazz. This year, I’m adapting an activity from Discovering Arguments, edited by Dean Memering and William Palmer which uses the Pulitzer Prize website. Students select an award-winning photograph or political cartoon about which they feel strongly. (They pick by the year menu at the top, scroll down for images, and then select the “Works” tab to actually see images.) I ask them to explain what the artist is using the image to convey and what choices the artist made to emphasize that message. Sometimes I’ve done a mini-lesson with some photographs before we begin, showing examples of the use of light and dark, perspective, framing, etc. Students write a few paragraphs about how the artist’s choices reinforce the message he or she wants to communicate via the piece, complete with the MLA Works Cited entry for the image off the website.
That’s the core assignment, but I’ve used a couple iterations. I like the basic assignment because it uses “an image as text.” Essentially, students must explain elements about the image similarly to how they’ll be expected to discuss literature next semester. I’ve put students in teams for this assignment, and then had each team present their image and conclusions to the class in presentations. Students could also hang small posters of their pieces, complete with the image and then complete a “gallery walk,” going around and filling out a questionnaire on the images, with questions like “Which image did you find most powerful? Why?” “Which image could serve in an ad campaign? Describe what message it would reinforce.” I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve considered asking students to build their product on a web page and add a soundtrack with lyrics they think accentuates the artist’s message. Then the “gallery walk” element could be completed by a web tour…
I like this unit because it’s different, it’s multi-media, and it incorporates the socialization that is inevitable at this point in the semester. Students genuinely want to share the images they discover off the site, and we end up having lots of “teachable moments” about the historical, medical, or political stories being told in the images. I like the energy it fosters as we ride out the last days…co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher