When a student brought me a mailbox-sized log cabin in response to our unit on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I knew that I had done the right thing by avoiding the traditional research paper in my lessons on the classic text. Borrowing from the research of Tom Romano, I asked students to create a multi-genre project as the culminating assignment for our work with Huck Finn, encouraging them to respond artistically, creatively, and academically to their reading. What I received in return was far more reflective — and interesting to grade — than a stiff research paper or a multiple-choice test.
Romano’s premise for the multi-genre project — in which students compile everything from drawings to poetry in response to a text — is that students must show what they’ve learned, not just tell. Responding to a work of literature through several different genres forces students to look at perspectives they might have otherwise ignored while attempting to memorize every fact for a test. The nature of the projects is so original and organic that it’s virtually impossible to plagiarize.
Here’s how it works: At the beginning of a unit on a text, I give students the criteria for this end project. For the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, I asked my classes to complete a study guide and a character guide to cover the recall element; a poem about a character or scene in the book; a letter to a character or to Mark Twain; an aesthetic element, like a drawing of the Mississippi River, a Mark Twain joke book, a character sketch or, in one student’s case, the hand-made cabin; and another element of choice. I give them a checklist with very specific expectations so that they know exactly what they have to do to earn their points. I go one step further and ask both the student and his or her parents to sign the checklist, promising that the work they turn in is, in fact, their own. That way, the parents and the students are held accountable for completing the assignment on time.
During the course of study, I ask students periodically to show me pieces of the project. I also assign in-class work that is relative to the multi-genre elements to ensure that they understand how to complete what I have asked of them. What results is personal and original. The students begin to understand what the text means to them on more than just an academic level. They spend time with the characters’ images, their hopes, and their fears. More importantly, they make connections with the characters that daily quizzes and harrowing final tests often prevent.
Here are some other ideas for multi-genre assignments:
Night, by Elie Wiesel
Ask students to complete:
1. A one-page memoir about a time in their lives they feel that they survived an event or a reflection paper.
2. A letter to a character in the novel.
3. A drawing of a character or of a scene in the novel.
4. A “found” poem in which they extract lines from the text to create their own poetry.
5. A review of a Holocaust-related film, such as Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful.
6. Study guides or other supplementary material, such as this one from Branford High School: http://www.branford.k12.ct.us/user/site/staff/cmiller/docs/nightqu.htm.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Ask students to complete a multi-genre project about hurricane imagery in the novel:
1. A hurricane-tracking chart of the storm that hit South Florida.
2. News articles about the storm.
3. An obituary for Tea-Cake.
4. A song or poem inspired by the hurricane (Bob Dylan’s “The Hurricane” and Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” make great templates).
5. An inventory of all of the items lost in the storm.
6 An advertisement for help cleaning up in the storm’s aftermath.
7. A sermon about floods and storms.