Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Student-Directed American Literature: We Need Your Help

One of my Language Arts teachers is wanting to try something a little bit different in his American Literature classes second semester. These are mostly juniors (16 and 17 year olds) and this is our “regular” junior year English class. Jeff (the teacher) would love some help from you guys in terms of resources and/or ideas. Here’s the basic idea:

In order to allow students to more passionately investigate topics that have meaning to them and to make learning more student-directed, I want to develop a collaborative project with my American Lit (juniors) class where they investigate a larger topic on their own.

Some of the topics I’m considering are:

What is…
the American Dream?
truly living?
(open topic, but needs to be approved by me)
We will read The Great Gatsby as a class because I believe it’s an important work in American Lit and Gatsby covers the thematic topics I’m wishing to use. Then, they will need to read other works (i.e. novels, short stories, non-fiction books, essays, blogs), watch films/videos, look at art, and examine other disciplines in order to find cross-curricular connections to their topic (could include art, music, history, philosophy, science, psychology, whatever). What they read, watch, and examine will be largely self-directed because I want them to follow their interests. And, while I hope that they’ll look into more modern ideas that may not be on a district approved list, I will still provide a list of more traditional, district-approved American Lit texts and readings.  

I envision meeting with students frequently (both inside of and outside of class) to discuss their learning and in what direction they are planning to go. As I am wanting students to find additional material related to their topic, I will ask for some level of parent permission so that I may offer suggestions of readings, films, music, and art that are not limited to works that have been “approved” by the district. Throughout the semester, I will have checkpoints at least every six weeks to ensure the students are working toward understanding. For literature, they will need to read at least 1 additional book (fiction or nonfiction), and 3 articles/essays/short stories. Then, they will incorporate at least 2 different disciplines (art, music, philosophy, etc…) in addition to literature. This investigation of a topic will all come together in a final project that will show what they have learned through this process. This will be open-ended so as not to limit thinking, but I can imagine original films, essays, creative writing, original songs, prezis, constructing something (virtual or actual), building web pages, music videos, computer apps, etc...

Here is where I really need help. What are some resources that can help students find books/articles/films/art/etc that will relate to their particular topic?

So, if you have suggestions for Jeff, either in terms of additional ideas or especially in terms of resources for students, please either leave a comment or email me. Thanks in advance for your help.


  1. What about adding pretense and/or ambition to the list of topics if the class is to read The Great Gatsby

  2. I think that is a really good idea. As a student I understand how difficult it is to do a project, especially if it is not a topic that you are interested in. I think it is a great idea to allow the students to pick which topic that they would feel most comfortable with and then use other resources as a means of finding out more information about their topic. Personally I would use the following resources if I were doing the project: local library, educational websites, or local art museums. These sources would definitely be a big help in aiding these students to find reliable information!