#IBLearners: Novels, Hashtags and Essays
by Wendy Baxter
9th Grade English Teacher
Clemente Freshman have been engaged IB learners during their first unit as high-school students. They are enjoying reading the exciting and relatable novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie. As they read, students write summaries, answer inferential questions, create Twitter hashtags, or draw Instagram pictures which encapsulate the chapter. For example, after reading a chapter about the main character making an important three point shot in a basketball game against his ex-best-friend, one student, Danielle Mrzena, creatively thought of two hashtag summaries: #epictrickshot and #jumpandgrin. These summaries provide a vehicle for students to creatively and critically think about a chapter, the characters, and how they are important to the novel as a whole. They have used these ideas and summaries to develop character comparisons, of which they will express in a thoughtful and academic essay.
The past week, students have been rigorously working on this compare and contrast essay. Initially they were apprehensive, as this was their first high-school essay. However, students took on the role of IB Inquirers and Thinkers with pride, and the task became much more manageable as they deepened their understanding of the characters, their personalities, and their similarities and differences. Students were given the option to either critically examine two different characters, or themselves and a character. They were also given the choice of which characters to write about. The students appreciated the agency they were give with this essay, and the freedom to explore their own favorite characters. They were then tasked to develop a claim about their chosen characters, to find quotes from the novel to prove these claims, and to apply correct MLA citations. Students enjoy using the laptops in class to type their essays on Google Docs within the Google Classroom I have created, where they can access their documents on any computer anywhere. I also have the ease of viewing their essays directly from my laptop, where I can make suggestions, provide comments, and be supportive throughout this challenging assignment. Students were able to produce thoughtful, informative, and scholarly compare/contrast essays that they were proud of.