‘Great Gatsby’ project begins

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As I wrote about recently, one of my American Literature classes is quite adventurous. They opted to try my “new” way of learning English, which I feel is very much aligned with the Common Core Standards initiative sweeping the United States.

They recently finished a unit on Edgar Allan Poe, which I feel was a success and gave me ideas for improvement.

Now they are tackling “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As I type this, the work is underway.  They had to have the entire book read by yesterday, and now they are working on the group project, which is a 10-minute movie due Dec. 13.

So far, this foray into the student-driven learning isn’t going as well.

I presented them with the project and sat back to observe.

What follows are my observations of today’s class:

They have figured out what scenes from the book they want to recreate for their movie.

Now they are collaborating on a script by using Google Docs. This seemed to be a problem. Some of the students found it humorous to type nonsense while the others attempted to actually work on the script. A lot of yelling ensued.

Soon, people were getting blocked out of the Google Doc.

One student has clearly taken the role of the leader. She is showing frustration.

Some more yelling.

People have been allowed back into the Google Doc, and more role’s have been assigned by the leader.

One person threatened to leave the project, but this did not occur.

Another student left the room suddenly . . . upon his return he found it troubling that while he walked around the school to get a snack from the vending machine his computer lost its connection with the Google Doc.

Now various students are tinkering with fonts, sizes, spacings and other inconsequential issues.

Arguing about the amount of money that can be saved by saving paper.

Tension is high in the class.

The script for Scene 1 is finished.

A bit of focus has returned.

Wait. One girl is busy playing with her hair and the computer’s webcam.

There. She’s back on topic.

For a moment, things seemed to have calmed down. I am hoping this means they are all working, but I am not too naive . . .

Someone is singing.

A brief interlude of discussing a different direction to take the movie.

At this point, a few of the students are impressing me with their work. They seem to be invested and into the project. Others are more difficult to read.

There was a surprising discussion of Meyer Wolfsheim, who in the book is the variable mobster-friend of Gatsby and how is credited with fixing the 1919 World Series that lead to the infamous Black Sox Scandal.

One of the students has completed a prop and costume list. Yay! Progress!

Now they are discussing dress codes and how short a pair of shorts needs to be considered short shorts . . . one side of the argument says mid-thigh is the shortest a pair of shorts should go. The other side says . . wait. It doesn’t matter. It has no bearing on the task at hand.

Now Scene 2 seems to be finished. 

Scene 3 is getting started. 

Overall, work seems to be slowing down a bit, except for a couple who are trying to push ahead.

Music is being selected.

“Slow kicks,” whatever they are exactly, are being practiced. According to the chatter, they are kicks that are part of jazz dance . . . I believe them simply because I have no background knowledge. And it sounds and looks accurate to me.

Oooh! A chorus line!

Two girls just did the splits as part of their practicing dances moves for the movie. It was painful to watch. The splits are always painful to watch.

Another student is diligently working on the script. I’m impressed!

And the bell just rang. Class is over for the day.

So here are my thoughts on how the day went:

It was chaos. 

And I loved it.

Sure, some structure would have been nice, but the chaos did have some semblance of control. None of the arguing and bickering got out of control. No physical confrontations took place. And no one cried.

Not to mention the cool stuff that arose from the fray.

It was awesome to see different students take on leadership roles. Some were more vocal leaders. Others were the strong silent type. It was fascinating. I saw traits in some of them that I had never seen before.

At first I think they were all feeling out the boundaries. After I told them what the project was and what they needed to do to accomplish it in a broad overview, I sat down and spoke little. The arguing and bickering, though a natural part of the process of finding direction, seemed to be a little exaggerated by my silence. It seemed as though they were trying to cause enough of a problem to force me to intervene. 

It was to no avail. I just sat by and observed. 

Eventually everything settled down. The roles of each student were established. Work took place.

Now some might feel the majority of the class time was wasted by me not instructing the students how to complete the project. Some might say when the arguing and bickering reach such a level, a bit of micro-management is necessary. 

I disagree. It worked out fine. It might have been a bit rough at times, but they did accomplish a few items on their list. That’s a win in my book.

And I am confident the next time will go better because these students are beginning to understand how to take control of their own education. Sure, this time there were vague directions — barely enough to help them really — but the structure was actually less than that in the Poe Unit. 

I can’t wait for class on Thursday . . .