I’ve wanted to incorporate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into my 8th grade class for several years now. The theme for my class is Identity: Who are you? Certainly, Alice’s search for self would fit perfectly into my curriculum. I needed a perfect storm of interest and tech savvy students to experience Alice in the way I envisioned it.
This year, I piloted Google Apps for Education in my classes. My assignments became virtually paperless and I encouraged the use of Google Sites with a heavy emphasis on collaboration in Google Docs. These students far exceeded what I imagined to be possible with using Google. It became second nature to them…their “go to” tool for all written and collaborative projects. They thrived on the instant feedback I could give them at any time of day…or night. They became better writers, thinkers, and creators of digital content. This was the group that was ready to jump down the digital rabbit hole with me.
My idea for this project has morphed and changed over the course of a year and a half. It began with Christian Long’s Educon 2.2 virtual conference on using blogging with the Alice Project. I followed his students’ work and was amazed at what they were achieving, but…they were in high school…I’m working with 8th graders. So, I kept it in the back of my head until I saw a post on the English Companion Ning by Jim Burke where he was exploring the idea of a digital essay….that was it…that was going to be the vehicle in which my students would explore Wonderland! Now, I needed to figure out how to execute the reading, discussion, and digital essay process of learning.
In preparing students for high school, I need them to have a strong understanding of literary elements and how to analyze a piece of literature. It is not something easily taught or learned, but I wanted to use Alice as the opportunity to experience and analyze literature with my students. But…I needed a place to begin…a commonality..something that would grab my students…(enter Tim Burton). Before even opening Alice, I decided to use Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland to teach a little about symbolism, annotation, and themes. My students used this Google Doc to begin to look at the familiar movie in a different way. Note: I know Tim’s version is not true to the text, and I made that perfectly clear to my students…I used it for the sake of comparison later on and interest in the beginning of the unit.
If you haven’t read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is a difficult text to get through although it is considered a children’s story. I made the executive decision to just focus on the first book, and not Through the Looking Glass due to the level of difficulty in analysis for 8th graders. In order to ease the text reading experience, I used a combination of The Annotated Alice and the audio version played through my smartboard. My students would listen, follow along in the text, and take notes on a Google Doc entitled: Exploring Literary Elements Through Wonderland. I designed this document using the principles from Smith & Wilhelm’s Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements. I wish I had video of this part of the project…students were actively reading and engaged in the text. They were listening and then following the annotations in the text while noting their own analysis in Google Docs. I was asking them to look at literature in a way they were not used to, but they took the challenge by choosing a character to focus on, noting setting as physical, temporal, & social/psychological, examining third person limited omniscient point of view, searching for themes and big pictures, and finding sense in the nonsense of Carroll’s poetry. My students became literary detectives…searching for meaning and clues in the text…they were analyzing literature!
The next part was really driven by my students. They wanted to watch the movie they were so familiar with. They sat and watched (and sang along) as they looked for similarities and differences between the text and the movie using this Google Doc. I would laugh as they would yell at the screen that a part wasn’t in the book or the movie wasn’t following the text! Some students even had the text in front of them as they tried to follow along.
I decided to make their final project…a digital essay…their final exam. I gave them the assignment 2 weeks before the final and allowed them to prep for it in any way they needed to. The digital essay is outlined here. On the final exam day, they would have an hour and a half to compose their essay on their individual pages within the Google Site for the project. For most, it meant they were putting together pieces they had been working on for the past two weeks. Preparation was the key to pulling this off in a short time period. What I got as a final product astounded me…I had pages of items that looked and read like Wikipedia entries that were dynamic visually with images and video. The pages made note of references for books, movies, images, and video. My students did it…they learned how to analyze literature, movies, and created a digital essay to authentically express their knowledge.
Click the image below to go to our class digital essay Google Site:
Click below to see an exemplary digital essay from the project:
Now it is time for me to reflect on this project. I want to take what worked best and improve upon it next year, and I want to examine potential pitfalls with upcoming classes. I’m excited to see how next year’s class will approach learning in the digital rabbit hole!