Predicting the Future Through Narrative

Today, I’m going to try to explain the current GI unit that my students are wrapping up. This year was my first year teaching English 11 and, therefore, my first time teaching this unit. I was very excited for the unit as many of my grade 11 students are opinionated, motivated, and informed, and I was interested to see how they would communicate their ideas through dystopian fiction—a genre that they have read quite a bit of but have probably never written before.

This unit proved to be rewarding and inspiring for me as a teacher because of the thoughtful and powerful ideas that my students were able to tap into in their narratives. The unit also proved to be challenging for other reasons: I was off work due to a concussion, so we started the project a little later than intended as I sorted out unit/lesson plans with teachers covering for me. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to host our book launch party, but we are still planning to publish an anthology in ebook format to keep in the library.

The objectives for this unit were:

  1. Understand how to communicate opinions and ideas through fiction
  2. Apply understanding of dystopian fiction to own writing

The first objective was important to me because I often teach students how to write stories, but I don’t necessarily ask them to use story to communicate a message. This requirement adds a layer of complexity and causes the students to be more selective in devising their plot.

The second objective was more summative in nature considering we have read many dystopian texts throughout the year. Students have shown understanding of the genre and the messages these authors communicate through analysis pieces but had not had a chance to experiment with the genre themselves. In my mind, this application piece was the students’ opportunity to show a fully developed understanding.

Please note that while students consulted dystopian texts and news articles through this unit, they were not directly quoting or paraphrasing information in their narratives. Therefore, their Works Cited page became a list of sources that informed or inspired their narrative rather than a list of sources that were referenced in the traditional way within their final product.

Below is a rough outline of the unit:

Open
  • Discussion of what we’ve learnt from literature and how communication through fiction differs from non-fiction formats
Immerse
  • Read and analyze Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Read and discuss “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Explore
  • Daily journal about a current event in the news that they found interesting/applicable
  • Record articles referenced in journal
Identify
  • Create a premise for the narrative
  • Create a list of sources that were most influential/informative for generating the premise
  • Create assessment rubric as a class
Gather
  • Consult both dystopian fiction examples and non-fiction sources to find more information
  • Write a character description and a setting description—conduct more research if more details are needed
Create
  • Generate a first draft
  • Peer edit first drafts
  • Revise and draft a final version of the story complete with an MLA Works Cited page for sources of information and inspiration
Share
  • Format stories into a class ebook to be published in the school library’s collection
  • Have a “book launch” party to celebrate their achievement
Evaluate
  • Self-assessment on the rubric
  • Reflection on what they have learnt and what they would do differently next time
  • Teacher evaluation of final product and self-regulation through the process

Through conversations I have had with students over the last two weeks, most students are quite pleased with their progress and the project itself. Not once have I had a student ask, “Why can’t we just write an essay?”—a lament that often occurs in longer, inquiry-based units. Furthermore, students have been exploring some very interesting concerns from their lives: stigmas towards students with accommodations, the impact of elite athlete training, schools of unlearning to train students to think a certain way, the impacts of climate change, growing economic divisions in societies, and more!

On Friday, I hope to share more of my reflections and even some excerpts from the students’ writing to further highlight the process of this unit and the overall results of it.

Thanks for reading!

 

Jennifer Torry

English Teacher

St. George’s School