The end of the third nine weeks has brought the end of getting my students back to working order. While I was away on maternity leave, things were lax, to say the least. So to get them used to working again, I let our big project stretch out longer than usual. As I talked with those who finished their project, we discussed the topic for the next news package. I really wanted to have them create a news package on their favorite book or comic, but the students didn’t seem as interested in the idea as I was.
As two students were talking, I overheard them discussing Bloody Mary. Student A explained to Student B the urban legend, and most of it sounded like the legend I heard of when I was their age. However, what I didn’t hear was the origin story, and when I asked them if they knew who Bloody Mary was based on, they said no. That slightly aggravated me. I was and still am an inquisitive person. If I hear about an urban legend, myth, or magical thing, I look it up. Sadly my access to information was far more limited than theirs. So while I rattled off her back story, I made my decision. My students would do a deep dive into the backstory of their favorite mythical creatures, folklore, or urban legends.
The next day, as my students edited, I had them stop so they could begin thinking about their next project. I decided to tease them with the idea of using their favorite book for their news package. The number of groans I received was hilarious. Even my students who loved reading complained this wasn’t their Ela class. So I gave them all a minute to calm down and asked them how they would feel about doing a project on their favorite mythical creature. This time the sound that erupted from my students was excitement and shouting over who would do what. But after three years of working with me, my eighth graders knew it would be a little more than that. I told them to avoid having ten projects on unicorns. They would have to select five different options and a summary of their topic.
Everyone stopped editing and started googling what they were going to pick. I regretted telling them so early, but when they get excited about a project, they wrap up the old one fast. My students know that I’m not too fond of bare-bones information. Even if they were creating a one to two-minute news package, they needed enough research to answer any follow-up questions I might have.
The point of the extra information is not just for my benefit. It’s also to help my students learn how to research, find multiple sources, and summarize their knowledge in an informative and exciting manner. This skill isn’t something they would only use in my class but throughout the rest of their academic and possibly personal life as well. My goal with my class has always been to encourage my students to be curious. If they hear about something interesting, my biggest hope is they want to learn more and, because of my class, will know how to find it and compare all sides.
Student C, knowing I hate clowns, asked if she could research Pennywise. I asked her if she meant the character from IT. And she nodded with a ridiculous smile. I told her the only way she could prove the character was based on something that came before the novel. Of course, I already knew that it was based on John Wayne Gacy, but I wanted to see what she would come up with. The next morning she came running into my class telling me a giant laundry list of what she learned and all the rabbit holes it sent her on. She hadn’t even started the project and had already learned more about her favorite character than she had known for the last two years.
I really do regret agreeing to let her choose pennywise however her seeking out the information was precisely the point of this exercise. I guess I’ll have to watch her project from behind my hands when it comes time to grade it.