|Focused on peer feedback--Google Docs style|
For this story I wanted to try some magical realism/surrealism because they use a lot of symbolism. I used to shy away from using big symbolism in stories because it was a bit daunting for me, but I took this as an opportunity to try. I learned how important it is to experiment in writing. Instead of trying one style that I’m comfortable with, experimenting with another style out of curiosity is important. This unit I wasn’t very conscious of my grade and just wanted to experiment and write something I will be satisfied with, and I learned how exciting writing can be. In the future I hope to incorporate more of what I read into what I write. --10th grader reflecting on short story draft
Why should students study short stories, and how should they demonstrate their mastery of the stories and of the genre’s elements studied in class? Here’s a novel idea: Not by taking a test but by writing their own short story. We didn’t even take it to a final draft—after all, this particular unit doesn’t target conventions, but watching the pros, analyzing what they do, then taking a risk and trying it ourselves just to see what happens and what we learn. If students get really wrapped up in their story and it gets too long to complete in a week’s time—no problem—a fragment is fine. Quick and dirty is the key. What’s important at the end is a written reflection about (1) what your inspiration and goal was, (2) the challenges and success you experienced in trying to accomplish that goal, and (3) what you learned in the process. If students set a goal connected to the short stories read, engage fully in the writing process, and write a reflection demonstrating that as well as significant learning, they will have accomplished all the learning targets and would receive full credit. That’s what I told them at the beginning of the week.
This is only my second or third time trying this, and I’m still nervous at the beginning. What if someone says, “This isn’t real writing! Get my child ready for college!” or “I hate writing stories!” But by the second day, when I conferred with students about their inspiration, goals, and plan, both they and I were hooked. And if you read their reflections (day 4–see below), I think you might be, too.
For an investment of 1 week of class (4 days for us, on a modified block schedule, 3 periods of 45 min., one of 75 min., and one day off), there were many gains. Students...
- Practiced reading like writers and writing like readers (since fiction is mostly what they read in English class).
- Created, and learned that creation almost always stands on the backs of others.
- Who enjoy creative writing got to pursue their passion IN SCHOOL! And those who are more comfortable with typical academic writing got to practice a little empathy.
- Took a risk, tried something new.
- Grew in their understanding of the literary devices short story writers use to convey theme, and in their understanding of what it takes to do that, and how a community helps.
In the previous week we had read 3 short stories—from a variety of countries, times, and world views, using a variety of styles: Leo Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need,” Franz Kafka’s “The Bucket Rider,” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”
The next week, we wrote. We spent Monday planning; Wednesday drafting; Thursday (the long period, in which the mini-lesson was basically my blog from last week) giving, receiving, and implementing peer feedback; and Friday reflecting.
|Students might have looked passive in the lead photo, but here's an example of the interactions that were taking place online!|
Here are some of the things students had to say on Friday--some of the goals they set and things they learned. I think you’ll agree, they all learned, and they all get full credit:
- It was awesome to see the looks on [the readers’] faces when the last paragraph came about. It was awesome. I learned that not everyone has the same sense of humor. The first person I showed it to (this was outside of class) got so mad about the ending. It was awesome to see my brother start laughing at it.
- My goal for this short story was to use a lot of dialogue. Whenever I tried to write a story, it always ended up being at least 90% narration, which made them quite honestly boring. I wanted to use this assignment as an opportunity to try and tell a story using mostly dialogue, while also not forgetting to build a setting. My inspiration for this story…was Murakami and the way he writes. While reading After Dark, I thought to myself multiple times that his ability to build a world through subtle details and thoughts that are sewn into the backgrounds of conversations to be genius, so I wanted to try and (crudely) implement this in my own story.
- As I was writing my short story, I couldn’t find places to insert foreshadows and irony. I ended up putting the former near the beginning and the latter at the end because I could squeeze it in without making it awkward. On the other hand, I felt I was able to use the weather image to show the character’s feeling/emotion. For some reason the story make it easy to put weather conditions in, so I tried it, and I think it worked out OK.
- My goal was to make a short story that makes you question its meaning and theorize what it is all about. I wanted to make my story as simple as possible, but also have a deeper meaning behind all of the strange things that happen in it. I also tried to add a bit of foreshadowing here and there.
- I was initially inspired by an interview in a Skelos article, an author who wrote something called a weird western. A confrontation with a metaphorical representation of death was an easy idea to follow as well, but I liked the setting of a rainy city rather than a desert. I wanted the short story to convey that you can’t live in fear of death, you must live in spite of it.
- To have an ironic, surprise/unexpected ending, like a story I read when I was little.
- When [my 2 table group partners] and I were peer editing/commenting, all three of us had different story lengths and style, and I felt that I really liked short stories because you might be able to feel, learn, or teach something in just a page!
- …I came up with some formats that I wanted to follow, for example, the semicolons and setting of the stage in the first paragraph like Kafka, and also to use many quotes as he did. I wanted to use foreshadowing the way Leo Tolstoy did, and from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the bizarreness of his story and subtleties of his lesson to be learned. To top all this off, I wanted to write about an important relationship in a father’s life, the one he has with his daughter, in a heartwarming way.
- I liked how “The Bucket Rider” gave different impressions to different people, which I really wanted to try…. My revisers were kind of confused with the theme, which I purposely left vague. So overall, I’m kind of satisfied.
- I wanted to be able to convey my message as simply as I could, and I wanted to connect it to the story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” because I found that story very interesting. The story was also my inspiration because when I pictured the old man’s wings, I pictured the vulture’s wings, and since a girl got turned into a spider, I thought maybe an animal could be turned into a person. I also found that my story turned out to be a fable, and I enjoyed writing it very much.
Maybe next week I’ll share some of the great stuff they wrote in their stories!
What do you think students should learn from studying short stories, and how do you assess them?