An Authentic Problem
Quite often, we ask students to respond to original ideas. We ask them to reflect on an author’s claim. We ask them to connect their values to an author’s values. We even ask them to make personal connections to an author’s background. A colleague of mine has students write letters to Sherman Alexie after reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (to which he has responded once). Importantly, we also ask students to respond to the writings of other students. These opportunities provide moments of authenticity in terms of revising and publishing that carry genuine weight as students begin to see themselves as writers.
The push to allow for students to respond to one another was alive and well in my classroom until a student asked why she couldn’t respond to her friend who was in a different hour of mine. And so began The Door of Chaos.
The Door of Chaos
The idea behind The Door of Chaos is that students have the opportunity to respond to ideas that were generated when they weren’t in the room.
Step 1: Students from Class 1 generate ideas surrounding the lesson’s learning task on sticky notes. For my most recent lesson, after reading A Raisin in the Sun, students made connections between Internalized Oppression and Institutionalized Racism.
Step 2: As they are leaving, students from Class 1 stick their ideas on the door.
Step 3: As they are entering, students from Class 2 review the ideas stuck to the door. This serves as a simple first look, and the ideas will be revisited later.
Step 4: Students in Class 2 are divided into groups of 3-4, and the groups are provided with Class 1’s prompt.
Step 5: While they are having conversations about the prompt, groups take turns taking a second look at the sticky notes on the door with the intention of amending, augmenting, questioning, or digging deeper.
Step 6: Groups work together to add 2-3 notes to any of the original ideas. As they finish each note, a group representative walks to the door and sticks their note next to its parent note while explaining to the class what the note says and why they chose to place it where they did.
Optional Step 7: Quite often, students will want to respond to responses. I often allow this to happen as it will begin a verbal conversation amongst classmates. Here, students can experience authentic conversations between peers that were spawned by writing.
The key to the prompt lies in its complexity. Students need to be able to stretch in order to address the prompt, and their peers must be able to recognize the complexity of their responses. My most successful prompts tend to include connections between characters or big ideas.
Of Mice and Men: How are the three broken characters (Lennie, Crooks, and Candy) reflective of Depression Era society?
Macbeth: Explain the connections you see today between ambition, tempting fate, and hubris.
Lord of the Flies: What is Golding’s take on mob mentality? How is this motif supported throughout the text?
Originally, this reflection strategy was a gamble. I was essentially taking the Socratic Seminar, boiling it down to just the prep work, and spreading the task over two class periods. It seemed like I was unnecessarily slowing down a process that already worked.
What I didn’t anticipate were the critical conversations that happened around other students’ work. I wasn’t expecting the care that was applied to the review of the original posts. And I certainly was surprised by the authentic written responses that accompanied other students’ writing.
How do you create authentic writing opportunities in your classroom? How do you move students to respond to their peers? You can connect with me on Twitter @MGriesinger or on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters.