Titanic effort an intensive exercise in literacy and assessment

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Submitted by Ms. Shari Rogerson
Principal, Huntsville School

Junior high students at Huntsville School and their teachers Julie Yanke and Carol Murray, have been working on a Titanic-themed cross-curricular Language Arts/Fine Arts unit since the beginning of January. Using the fascinating real-life event of the sinking of the Titanic, students were required to engage in several different literacy-based formats to demonstrate their understanding of the historical tragedy.

Among other projects, students were required to write Titanic-themed poetry; create a journal from the perspective of an actual passenger or crew member on the ship; and compile a research piece based on a specific theme (for example some choices were “The Lifeboat Scandal” or “Chivalry in a Time of Crisis”). The gift of having two teachers to co-teach the 26 students created a powerhouse of intensive literacy interventions and authentic assessment opportunities.

 On a daily basis, Mrs. Yanke and Ms. Murray conferenced with students to provide immediate feedback on their writing. During each conference, the teachers would highlight strengths, and work with the student to set new individual goals to improve their writing. Students were also given the opportunity to resubmit work as often as they felt necessary to achieve the best mark possible.

Mrs. Yanke found that this fostered in students an authentic desire to improve upon their work, rather than the typical case of “hand it in, get a mark, and forget about it.” One student, for example, typically achieves a basic understanding (60 to 65 per cent) in his writing. Given the opportunity to meet with his teachers, discuss possible improvements, work on it further, then resubmit — several times — resulted in this individual receiving a hard-earned proficient understanding (translating to a 77 per cent) on his writing. As an added bonus, in his next written assignment, he showed significant improvement, as he was able to draw on his recently honed organizational, descriptive writing and editing skills to receive a 76 per cent on his first try — and he still chose to resubmit and improve upon that!

 As a cumulative activity and celebration, the junior high students were required to create a Fine Arts visual media presentation to share with the school. On Feb. 13, the entire school had the opportunity to tour through the junior high classroom and hallways, viewing Titanic paintings, poems, journals and research pieces, while chatting with students about the fascinating intricacies of this tragic, yet spellbinding topic.