The assignment below came from the textbook I used in my RUSN 320 (Russian Cultural History) course a few years ago. With Mike Blum’s help I changed the scanned textbook page (which was a read only pdf) into a Word document that students could manipulate and change. The assignment was posted on the course Bb site and used during class. The bulleted sentences describe key scenes from the classic Soviet film Circus, which the students were assigned to watch before class. The Russian instructions ask the students to re-arrange the bulleted sentences in chronological order, and then to organize these sentences into paragraphs with the help of connectives and additional clauses. The goal of this and similar assignments is to help students develop their writing skills in Russian at the Advanced Proficiency level, the expected level of the essays they submit in this course. Similar assignments include writing descriptive paragraphs based on literary descriptions from the short stories they read in class, or creating an alternative narrative of the story from another character’s point of view. Why did I want students to work collaboratively on this assignment in class?
There are several reasons, but most importantly I wanted them to start thinking and writing on the general topic of their essay, which in this case had to do with the narrative of the film Circus. By starting this process in small groups during class I allowed / encouraged the students to essentially brainstorm together, feed off of each other’s ideas and impressions, and get creative. Then by reading and discussing the varied and quite interesting paragraphs from different groups at the end of class we were able to point out excellent sentences, which could be used as models of opening statements or complex sentences, and discuss problematic sentences and paragraphs. What was my role in this exercise?
The first time I tried this in class I didn’t know what to do with myself -- I was used to standing in front of the class either asking all the questions or explaining and introducing new material. After a couple of tries I learned to walk around the class making myself available to each group, making suggestions about their paragraphs and answering their questions, but also keeping them on task to have at least something ready 10 minutes before the end of class. I found that I really enjoyed the more personal interaction of this type of environment, and quite often when we projected a particularly interesting paragraph on the screen I actually felt the pride of being a contributor or facilitator, the pride of helping the students achieve something creative and well-written. Assessment
Although this specific assignment was not graded, the in-class activity is a part of the overall class participation grade; students are expected to come to class prepared, to contribute actively to group work, and to speak mainly in Russian. If there were any slackers they would be marked down for class participation that day. Peer review of the finished paragraphs is a form of assessment, of course, but certainly not on the same level of pressure as a grade that will count as 20% of the overall grade for the course.