Documentation and Reflection
“I have always wanted to be a writer, and before I did this project, I had no idea what my writing style was. I didn’t know what genres I was the best writing, and what was the best genre for me . . . Even though it was a fantasy story, there were elements of many other genres of books. There was a mystery, there was a lot of comedy, there was action, there was adventure, there was a little Sci-Fi, there were some secrets, and several other types of scenes played into this book. And the weirdest thing, each were necessary to continue the story I was trying to tell . . . Before this, I didn’t realize how much information, joy, sadness, fun, and other complicated emotions that most other things besides words can convey could be conveyed through a book."
- Zane, reflecting on his project on writing a fantasy novel
“Even though we were writing a school newspaper, in some ways it felt like we were business owners trying to please our customers, and keep our company going. Book recommendations aren’t interesting to everyone, but not everyone wants to look at soccer scores either . . . we had to get people to want to read our paper."
- Lilac, reflecting on publishing a school newspaper
“If cooking is a language, then that would be the new language that I explored in this project . . . I learned about artificial colors and flavors, cooking, how to interview people, how artificial ingredients affect humans and animals, how to cook . . .”
- Emma, reflecting on her project cooking natural and artificial recipes.
Many students create writing projects in Exploratory. The range of writing genres covered is an English teacher's dream: sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, historical fiction, poetry, short stories, research projects, screenplays, children's books, newspapers, yearbooks, and more. What's more, students come to you for help revising, editing, formatting – when it's their creation, they are especially invested in getting it right.
But the most interesting way that Exploratory teaches all students to write is by asking students to document, reflect, and share their work. Each student is assigned a blog which they update each Exploratory session to comment on their progress, share their triumphs or frustrations, and share their work and research through photographs, videos, screenshots, and links. They write a thoughtful evaluation at the mid-point of each project and submit it to their mentor for feedback. And at the end of the project, they compose a reflective essay that focuses on how they grew and what they learned about themselves as project-creators and project-doers.
Students don't always love this writing task. Who wants to stop and naval-gaze in the middle of the action? Zane – who is so effusive and sharp in the opening quote – hated this requirement of the program when he first entered the sixth-grade. He had been thinking all summer about the fantasy novel he wanted to write – he had to fight his way through the black forests, climb the misty mountains, and do battle with the dragons in his imagination - and this kind of “meta-project” writing seemed like it would keep him stuck in the hobbit-hole. But as his project progressed, he started to create wonderful blog entries, each focusing on the particular quest he had ventured on during that day's writing session – “Creating a Funny Fight Scene,” “Creating a Difficult Choice Scene,” “Creating a Flashback Scene” – and shared an excerpt from his work. He began to realize that blogging was a chance to both focus his work and share it with the world. By the end of the project, he was as invested in the audience of his blogging as he was in his final product – and he had gained the important self-insights shared above.
The relationship between documentary, reflective, and communicative writing and independent projects is deep and fundamental to the program. Without teacher-directed instructions, writing is the place for students to collect, process, and gather their thinking, remind themselves of their tasks and their overarching goals, share challenges and triumphs, and find the big take-away from each project.
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