Several weeks ago, we reached the end of the third year of The (K)indred Experiment. I’m just now getting caught up on all the copy editing and posting of student work. Hooray for vacations!
I had seven students over the course of the five class periods, although not everybody made it to every class, which you can see from the variation in story length, if you go check out the student projects page. A few of them had significantly more time to work on their stories.
Time is always the issue. Between my schedule, and theirs, we meet for a total of about six hours, spread out over about eight weeks. It’s not an ideal system for learning, and I’m always impressed by how much of the information that I throw at them sticks.
That said, I think I’m going to try a different approach next year. For the past couple of years I’ve started with the big picture–the worldbuilding: creation and mapping of their alien settings–and then scaled down the focus to characters, and then conflict. This year, every single one of the students struggled with conflict, so I think I’m going to start there next year, instead. We can try to develop characters and setting from an initial conflict, rather than the other way around.
Something else that I need to focus on next year is finding stories short enough and engaging enough that we can read them together. I’ve always wanted to have them read more, but again, time is an issue. I can’t spend half of my six hours with them reading stories because then they’ll have no time to work on their own, but I think it would be enormously helpful for the whole group to have the same frame of reference when we’re talking about particular story components, for example, protagonists and antagonists. (I also can’t count on being able to come up with an example in pop culture that everyone understands. See my disastrous Batman reference in an earlier post.)
Other than time and examples, the other thing that I’d like to focus my year between programs on is a better way to teach plot. I have tried the Plot Rollercoaster, and the Plot Fish, and a general generic outline, and The Hero’s Journey and none of them work that well.
The general structure of story was another thing that all of the students seemed to struggle with this year, which means it’s a flaw in my lessons. I’m also going to lay a little of the blame on the Common Core, because, as their classroom teacher and I discussed at length, sixth graders in New York these days have barely read any fiction at all. The focus of their academics has shifted almost completely to mining data out of paragraphs about manatees (or whatever. Manatees sticks in my head from my own 11th grade English Regents, which was well over a decade ago. It was that boring.) in order to answer multiple choice test questions, rather than reading novels or poetry or short stories or comic books.
That’s a problem, folks.
And it’s one that I’m attempting to help solve with this program. I think kids need to be exposed to fiction. They need to find stories that they can relate to, and ones that they can’t to broaden their horizons and learn about places and things that aren’t familiar to them. They need to be taught that reading is fun. If it’s fun, they’ll keep reading, and study after study proves that kids who read are kids who are generally more successful across the board–academically, socially, etc.
*climbs down off soapbox*
Okay. I’ll stop now. If you’ve spent any time with me in person, you’ve probably heard this spiel before. I have no illusions that I’m going to single-handedly take on the Common Core, but if I managed to get seven students interested in reading and writing their own stories, then my time was well spent.I hope they continue.
As always, extra special thanks to their classroom teacher, Mrs. Avila, for being my faculty in at the school and for asking all the right questions to get the students thinking, especially when I don’t.
Also thanks to the students who decided to try this program and kept coming back. The (K)indred Experiment is open to everyone and I’m always thrilled by the diversity of skill levels and imaginations in the students who participate. I think (I hope!) everyone gets something out of it. I know I do.
So now I’ll officially wrap up the 18-19 year of the (K)indred Experiment and start looking forward to next year.
To infinity and beyond! (which is another reference that these students probably wouldn’t get because I am OLD.)
Happy New Year.