Hmmmm, another BIG REVELATION for my classes came to me on my walk today. The obligation to make some big changes to my class caused by the end of mini-Nings sure has been letting me rethink many things and invent some new strategies to use. What I realized today was that I should probably offer a "Writing Portfolio" option as an alternative to the "Storybook Project" that each student now completes. That would benefit students who really do not have a lot of time to spend on the class (that's a battle I cannot win with some students), and it would also help those students who, for whatever reasons, really struggle with completing a semester-long project. Every semester, there are a few students who struggle with that so badly that they end up abandoning their project. There are only a couple of such students each semester, but when that does happen, it obviously means that the project was not a productive option for them, even if they do still eke out a passing grade in the class by doing the other work. I always feel badly about it, since having a "take-away" from the class that each student can be proud of, a take-away OTHER than the grade, is one of my biggest goals as a teacher.

So, by Writing Portfolio what I have in mind is this: students would choose four or five of their best stories from the storytelling blog posts that they write every week based on the course reading. Right now, those blog posts are just experimental writing, a way to practice different skills and styles. They read each other's blog posts, but I don't read the blogs; it's more or less the equivalent of "class discussion" via blogs rather than a discussion board. With the Writing Portfolio, the students would go on an alternating write-revise-(revise) schedule starting in Week 4, choosing the best of their available stories to turn in to me for feedback and revision, instead of the Storybook stories that other students are turning. I would still list the Portfolios with the Storybooks, so these students would be getting feedback on their writing project, just as the Storybooks do. The only difference would be the content (one-off stories based on the course readings, rather than a semester-long topic) and also the format (students could do this at a Google Site OR it could just be part of their regular class blog).

Practically speaking, here's how it would work: I would ask all students to go through the three-week planning process to get ready to create a Storybook: in Week 1 they look at past Storybooks, in Week 2 they would brainstorm topics, and in Week 3 they would brainstorm styles. Then in Week 4, they would have the option to branch off and do a Writing Portfolio instead, if they are not satisfied with the way their Storybook project is taking shape. For those students who want to carry on with their Storybook, they would write the Introduction in Week 4, and then revise and publish it in Week 5 - although Week 5 would also be a week in which they could opt to go for the Portfolio instead.  Week 6 would then be the point of no return: normally students doing a Storybook publish their first story in Week 6, but that could also be a jumping off point. Students who realize they are just not happy with doing Storybook stories could start their Writing Portfolio in Week 6 and still have time to complete four or five stories to make the portfolio.

So, that gives all students a 3-week planning period for the Storybook, followed by a 3-week period of deliberation, and then after Week 6, people would have chosen either the Storybook or the Portfolio option. Any student who was two weeks or more behind on their Storybook by Week 6 would do Portfolios automatically... and that's one of the best features of this system as I see it: students who are already a couple weeks behind on the Storybook by Week 6 end up struggling all semester long and are badly out of synch with the rest of the class (in addition to the fact that they tend to get more and more behind). I need a way to give them a good solution to the problem they are faced with early in the semester, and the Portfolio will be a good solution.

Anyway, I had a sense of ENORMOUS relief when I came up with this idea. At the end of the semester, I'm going to be floating some of my redesign ideas with the students, and I am really curious what they will say about this one. I think it will be valuable to offer this as an option even if only a few students take me up on it each semester... and especially after the first semester, when I will be able to have an "archive of portfolios" just as I have an "archive of projects," it will be something that should not have any kind of stigma attached to it as, admittedly, it might have in the first semester.

Okay, fingers crossed! The past month has been an AMAZING time of re-thinking my courses. I can't remember ever being as excited for the coming semester as I am right now... with so much good stuff to keep me busy this summer! Whoo-hoo!!!!!
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