Short Story Project

“Create a prequel, sequel, or spinoff of a short story to demonstrate your understanding of the theme and the motifs of the short story you chose.”

Who knew this simple instruction would spark so much creativity among my students? I really shouldn’t be surprised that my students are so creative because they have always been. But time and time again, my students have surprised me with their talent. I am thrilled to see them shine.

Rationale for the Lesson

1. Social Learning Theory

Vygotsky (1978) discusses the importance of learning in a social context in his book Mind in Society.  He focuses on the use of tools. More importantly, Vigotsky argues for allowing all children to engage in play to demonstrate their innate creativity and imagination. This project focuses on providing a learning opportunity for students to work with various tools (short stories, video camera, and video editing software) in groups (social learning) while having fun (play), so that they can express their creativity.

2. A Situative Perspective

The situative perspective attempts to combine “cognitive science and interactional studies” (Greeno, 2006, p.92). Looking at the connection between student motivation and identity creation, this perspective allows teachers to create classroom activities that target both the individual students and the classroom environment to maximize student learning. Since it does not require teachers to make an explicit connection between the individual learning and the learning environment that allows it, it is a useful tool for any classroom teacher.

The Lesson Steps and Potential Challenges

If you are a teacher interested in trying this lesson, steps are listed here.

Potential challenges might be:

  • Lack of cameras

I combat that with supplying 3 digital cameras that I collected over the years. You could ask your colleagues and see whether they have digital cameras that they are willing to share. What I found, however, was that the students can use their smart phones to capture the videos.

  • Lack of video editing software

This could be one of the toughest challenges in attempting this project. At our school, we have labs with PCs. My student used Windows Moviemaker, a free program that is often pre-installed on any PC. Recently, a student of mine recommended VideoPad Video Editor, another free program that is a bit more sophisticated.

I wouldn’t, however, let this stop you from attempting the project. Providing your students with an opportunity to problem solve is important. It will just take more time.

  • Lack of time

For my AP students, I gave nearly 2 weeks to complete this project. I really wanted them to (1) read multiple stories, (2) extract the motifs and the themes from the story, and (3) synthesize their understandings in a coherent script. Still, their understanding of the motifs and the themes had a lot to be desired. I imagine this might take longer for less skilled groups of students.

I suggest reviewing what a motif is thoroughly with your students. I tell them a motif is something that reoccur throughout the story that enhance a point. I referred back to The Lord of the Flies, and Golding’s use of colors, in particular pink. For the purpose of this project, I encourage them to place a physical object in the movie to illustrate their understandings of the concept of motif.


1. Sequel

The following video is a sequel of “The Rocking Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence.

Synopsis – 14 years have passed since Paul Hester, a little boy who rode the rocking horse winner to provide money for his mother in exchange for his life, died after predicting that Malabar would win the big race. His mother is dealing with the fallout from his death.

2. Spinoffs

The following video is a “spinoff” of Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings.”

The following video is a “spinoff” of Chinue Achebe’s “Marriage is a Private Affair.”


I am more than likely to use this lesson again. I am in the process of working with another colleague to see how we can modify it for her ELD and literacy students who require more scaffold and support due to the skills levels. I can’t wait to write about their progress. Once the modifications are complete, we plan to present our findings at a conference in June.


Greeno, J. (2006) Learning in activity. In K. Sawyer (Eds.) (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 79-96). New York: The Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

CATE 2014 Conference Reflection

This past weekend, I spent some time at the 2014 CATE Conference. Last time I attended the CATE Conference, Billy Collins read his poems during one of the dinner sessions. I learned so much from other teachers. I felt rejuvenated and excited.

I was also just beginning my doctoral program, and I made a few suggestions as to what the organization could do leverage social media and technology. I had lots of great conversations with key people, and I left feeling pretty good about it.

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Two years later, I was back to do a presentation on game-based learning. I was just as excited to be with fellow teachers who are passionate about education. However, I realize not much has changed in terms of technology. It was still a great conference, but I thought a few things could make this conference that much better next year.

Integrating Social Media

During the registration, I asked what the official #hashtag for the conference was. CATE didn’t have one. Of course, the participants were tweeting about the conference regardless. I suggest that the conference takes charge of their brand by leveraging all forms of social media during the conference, especially Twitter. It will be simple to add the hashtags to the program, and encourage the conference attendees to use them. It should also consider having the Twitter feed during all the main sessions, so that the speaker can interact with the audience.

Intergrating More Technology

I suggest CATE create a place for the presenters and the participants to upload all the presentation materials.  It surprised me that it did not already have such a space. It will be as simple as setting up a Dropbox or even Google Drive. I also suggest that the conference considers doing live streaming and/or recording of the sessions for future use. Of course, this will require the presenters’ consent. But starting with a few and expanding to offer additional webinar could be beneficial in continuing its legacy of excellence. This will also bring in new members into the fold.

Intergrating Hands-on Sessions and Diversifying Session Formats

I suggest CATE diversify the session formats and reduce the number of session per time slot. I also suggest adding hands-on sessions where teachers can demonstrate their lesson techniques and help others to create lessons that can use when they return to their classrooms. Rather than offering 8-10 lecture-style sessions, CATE could offer 4 -5 sessions, and give the presenters opportunities to participate in  a poster session or to ignite talks. This will draw younger teachers or college students who might not be ready to present in a typical one hour and fifteen minute sessions but still want to present at the conference. I also suggest creating a better mechanism for selecting the presentation. I say that because I did not have to submit any sample work for my presentation. Although I think my presentation was excellent, I am not sure whether the committee would have thought that without seeing my work prior to the conference.

Conference Proceedings Publication

Finally, CATE with its existing literary magazine should consider working with teachers to publish conference proceedings as other major conferences typically do. I suggest CATE does this online. I believe this will serve two purposes. First, this will naturally facilitate deeper theoretical and pedagogical discussions among all participants. Second, this will provide opportunities for teachers aspiring to become researcher-scholars, which is one of the organization’s missions.

I think that CATE is a wonderful organization, dedicated to improving the lives of English teachers. Every time I attend the conference, I am struck by how amazing and hardworking all the teachers really are. I hope to contribute to this organization in a meaningful way by doing more presentations and providing suggestions. As a technology doctoral student, I want to help the organization leverage many available resources. I can’t wait to go back to the next year’s conference and many conferences to come! Teaching English is not easy, and we really need each other.

Daily Reflections

One of the benefits of working with high school students is all the laugh I get from them. I absolutely adore my students for making me laugh all the time. I hope you can appreciate what I mean.

I have always believed in having them reflect daily because I feel it’s something that they can really learn to do. Each year I find something interesting when I read their reflections. Surprisingly they are very honest about what I am doing in class, and I learn a lot by reading them.

And they are often hilarious as well. This year, I told one of the students to become engaged in a “dialogue” with himself. So he began writing in his reflection as such. He had the following characters set up.

Student 1 = My normal self
Student 2 = My wise self
Student 3 = My angry self
Student 4 = My critical self

And the following is an example of his reflection.

Student 1 = I told you I would get it under control
Student 4 = What about your “xyz” application?
Student 1 = Uh…darn it.
Student 2 = I’ll be fair. You have finished the rest. That is good.
Student 1 = Of course, I take my responsibilities seriously.
Student 3 = If that’s true, why did you do so poorly last quarter?
Student 1 = I’ll accept my responsibilities there; I just find this “reflection” becoming cumbersome. I understand she wants us to record our thoughts, but honestly, journals are useless to me. What purpose does this serve? I could using this time finishing more important work.
Student 2 = Technically, this is “important” work. It brought down the grade when you didn’t do it.
Student 1 = ….
Student 4 = [Sigh] Imbecile!

Mind you, I never asked him to make his reflections so complicated. I know I am being bad for laughing, but seriously, these students crack me up!!!!! And I love them.

RPG and Literature – What is gamification in a high school English classroom?

Since I came back from the GLS 2013 Conference, I have been thinking about ways to incorporate role playing games into my instructional practices. I met Dr. Hergenrader at the conference who did his dissertation on teaching creative writing using RPG creation. His talk sparked an interest and understanding that I didn’t had before.

The conference enlightened me and expanded my horizon as to what gaming in my classroom could be. I used to think that using digital gaming was what I was supposed to do. But I realized that using game mechanics to enhance learning was what effective gaminification was truly about. My students didn’t need to play games for me to gamify my classroom successfully.

Since I already loved the idea of situated learning, I began thinking about using the game creation rather than game playing – although there definitely was a huge benefit to game playing, which I would like to talk about later – to teach the skills as well as the content that my students needed to learn.