Another Year of Gatsby VoiceThreads

Posted on May 8, 2009


I’ve been absent from blogging here for quite some time. I’ve actually been reading, commenting, and creating content in other places like at the Classrooms 21 blog, a project we’re tackling in my district to redesign the learning environment in our classrooms, to make it a more active, engaging, technology-infused environment.

What I really want to share in this post though  is a project I just completed with my English 11 students. Last year, I had students analyze color symbolism in The Great Gatsby and present their analysis in a VoiceThread. This year I tackled the same project but with greater success, most likely because I’d worked out several kinks last year. This time, the students’ focus, and mine, was more on the analysis and less on the tools. As a result, the projects are much richer. Check out this one group’s analysis of the color lavender:

Here’s basically what we did:

1. We spent one 90 minute class period analyzing the color and writing the script.

  • Students used an online copy of the novel and the CTRL F keyboard function to search for the color. Groups assigned certain chapters to each group member, making quick work of this task. They copied and pasted all the examples into a document and printed it.
  • Next, each group gathered round a table and talked about the text, looking at each example of the color being used and thinking about the symbolism of the color, the connotations for that particular instance, and how this instance connected to the larger novel as a whole. Before we started, I had shown students examples of projects from last year. Having models was a huge help to students.
  • Next, students used etherpad to collaboratively write their scripts. This tool allows all members of the group to type in real-time on a single page,  so they all see each others contributions immediately! Each person’s writing is color-coded. Two tips: 1) students need to write their names and color at top of script because the color key in right sidebar disappears if you revisit site; 2) I created pads in advance and posted the links on our class wiki, which allowed anyone to visit anyone’s pad. Let’s just say some students had fun chatting with other groups, zipping in and out of different groups’ pads. Next time, I’ll print and hand out the URL’s to only the group leader. The image below is a screenshot of a one group’s script composed in etherpad.EtherPad

2.  Day two, students found images to match the ideas in their scripts. After a brief chat on being ethical users of online images, I showed them how to do an advanced search on Flickr to search for only Creative Commons photos. Again, students split up the parts of the script, assigning each member a particular part so that everyone had photos to find. Using the etherpad again, students copied and pasted the photo URL (right click on photo, click properties, and copy URL) at the bottom of the etherpad.
3.  Day three, they created their VoiceThread. They were able to quickly copy and paste the photo URL into VoiceThread then add their voice narration. I encouraged them to re-read their scripts and make any needed revisions before recording the narration.

All in all, I’m happy with the results. For one, we used much less class time this year because we were able to work more efficiently. Because my students were familiar with VoiceThread (we’d used it earlier this year) they were able to focus more on the content of their presentations and less on the tool. As it should be.

I’d love to do the project again next year, adding collaboration with another class from somewhere beyond our school walls. Anyone interested?