This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Kristen Fischer
My colleague Wendy and I joke that sometimes, an assignment or unit needs a little “sprinkle” of fluency: “How can I throw some ‘Fluency’ into this?” isn’t an unusual line for us. While it isn’t always a one-step process and usually isn’t as easy as it sounds, I’ve had some successes. The evolution of my culminating assessment for The Crucible is an example.
I’ve taught Arthur Miller’s The Crucible almost every year of my career, and in three different schools, each with different cultures. I’ve rarely taught it the same way, or assessed it the same way, more than once—not even in the same school. For those unfamiliar, the play depicts the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, with some basis in actual history, but is also meant as an allegory of the McCarthy era.
At first, my culminating assessment focused on theme, or some other literary element. I do think this work has a rightful place in ELA classrooms, but many students aren’t engaged by that work, and the internet offers endless temptation for inauthentic shortcuts. (These days, I usually make these in-class exercises or formative assessments of smaller point value.)
Later, I introduced a research element, where students looked at how a concept--such as pride--functions in the play, and compared it to a real-world scenario. It involved some choice, and some research; it was better, but not great.
Since my work with The Fluency Project, my culminating assignment for this unit has take a much more relevant direction: I threw some Fluency into the mix.
By the end of Fluency “boot camp” during my first summer of involvement, I crafted the Witch Hunt Infographic Project, which involving researching modern-day witch hunts, creating an infographic displaying numbers and narratives about a chosen incident, and writing a one-page analysis of how the Salem events and chosen event were similar. My advocacy element consisted of a gallery walk to review the prevalence and diversity of witch hunts and of a discussion on preventing and combating them. Both the students and I enjoyed this project, and it also challenged students to produce contemporary media that would engage and educate each other.
Though mostly satisfied, my teacher brain is rarely at rest, and I inevitably struggled with some aspects of the project. Some students wanted to look at topics that weren’t quite witch hunts, yet seemed to have some connection worth looking into, and I wondered how to frame my assignment so it would welcome these inquiries. Additionally, while the project engaged students in the traditional skills of researching, reading, analyzing, and writing, I wanted deeper analysis, and I also wanted to amplify the writing and research more.
This fall, I themed my unit around misinformation and how misinformation can be used to empower and disempower. While studying the play, we looked at fallacies used by some in power—like Danforth, Parris, and Putnam—to preserve their power, and how circulators of misinformation—like Giles Corey, or perhaps Hale, at times—sometimes did so unknowingly, for various reasons ranging from ignorance to confirmation bias, yet perpetuated injustice by doing so. We looked at testimony from 1692 and the 1950s (primary source documents!) to examine what this looked like in history, not just literature. At the end of the play, after a “Can you spot the fake news?” activity, the students worked in groups to complete a new assignment: a three-part misinformation project, which involved investigating an incident of misinformation and analyzing its roots, consequences, and more. Topics ranged from historical incidents (The Cardiff Giant, the June Bug Epidemic, from my list of suggestions) to present-day 2016-election related subjects.
This misinformation project involved an annotated bibliography (skills: researching, reading, summarizing, and evaluating), an outline (skills: formatting, organizing, citing, and deciding between quotes, summaries, or paraphrasing), and a public service announcement on a misinformation-related topic, such as responsible social media usage of confirmation bias (skills: analyzing audience & purpose, articulating & supporting an argument, designing, and more).
I concede that this culminating project took longer than my prior projects. Maybe I am okay with that, or maybe I will look for ways to expedite the unit in the future; I’d also like to improve how I circulate the PSAs. Nonetheless, my students have a deep understanding of the consequences of misinformation, and have looked critically at the media they consume. They also became producers of media themselves. The project is my favorite version so far, and surely the most rigorous one.
So, this is one version of what happens when you “sprinkle some Fluency” on a unit!