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Group Collaboration Produces Surprising Sources

Students Draw on Pop Culture to Analyze Literature

When innovation, collaboration, reading, language and writing all can be taught in a single project, it’s a win-win for both teachers and students. That’s what “A Raisin in the Sun” and Jimmy Kimmel helped teach a team of students in Molly Stabler’s honors English class recently.

“We ended up somewhere between the TV show ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?’ and Kimmel’s show,” Katie Dinkel said of her group’s final project.

The first collaboration step was meeting with fellow group members and figuring out how to get along. Next they had to agree on a Common Core skill they wanted to show intheir final work and submit a proposal. Groups of three to four students had two weeks to complete this part of the project.

“The small group size makes the instruction s-o-o-o much better and individualized,” Stabler said.

The assignment style kept students engaged, said Sam Dickman: “You’re always in the conversation and never left out.”

Sam Dickman says Stabler pushes students but class is “never boring”

Groups had to agree on one of four books to focus on: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck; “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry; “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns; or “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. Katie and Sam Dickman’s group picked “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Stabler encourages students to think outside the box, and Katie’s team definitely accomplished that when it pulled in comedian and talk show host Kimmel. “Celebrity Mean Tweets” got involved (OK, maybe not literally). Mean Tweets is a segment on Kimmel’s show featuring celebrities reading mean tweets they have received from the public. The team stole the idea, but instead of celebrities, they had characters in Greek mythology tweeting.

Other examples of the students’ work included staging a talk show interview with Steinbeck; creating a puzzle with quotes and images relating to the book and submitting it for Stabler to put together; and making a parody of the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel.

Katie Dinkel said the class challenges students to “think and be creative”

Billy Joel Supports Common Core?

Groups had to select a Common Core State Standard reading objective to focus on. Here’s what their proposal for the Joel song looked like: “The song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is about history and how dissent and rebellion has always been present, and that future generations must keep it going,” the group wrote. “This really correlates with the civil rights movement and making a fuss to have your voice heard.”

That was an example of how the assignment made students think in different ways. “I love to see how brains come up with ideas,” said Stabler, who learned about the idea from a conference. “They’re way better than mine.”

Students said Stabler challenges them and that her class is never boring. “She wants you to think and be creative,” Katie said.

“Projects like this better prepare students for the future,” Stabler said. “When you’re in a job, you have to learn to get along with people and your boss. They don’t know what job they’ll have to do, but they will have to be innovative and creative.”

Another way Stabler fosters creativity is encouraging her honors English students to enter writing contests. That paid off recently for Katie Marentette, whose essay on Leo Tolstoy won the state award for the Library of Congress Letters About Literature contest.


Envision Blog: “Teaching Students the Art of Collaboration”

Sam Dickman, Katie Dinkel, Madison Raymond and Clayton Davies worked together on their honors English project
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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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