At the little homeschool college-prep program where I teach, my high school students are embarking on independent projects. I'm going to describe these projects briefly here, because they are a microcosm for just about everything I hope to accomplish. They unify literature and history, and both with an art form. They look at all three (history, literature, the arts) through a Christian worldview. They require academic and creative excellence. In this post, I'm putting an edited version of the instructions the students have to follow; in another post, I'll put little descriptions of the projects themselves. If anybody asks, I'd be happy to post the reading list, as well. Rather than feeling any sort of copywrite anxiety, I encourage teachers to steal this idea if they want!
1. Decide what medium you will use for your project: paintings, sculptures, poems, other creative writing, photographs, collages, posters, power point, musical composition and performance, dramatic script and performance, dance choreography and performance, film script and direction, traditional research paper, etc. (No one has chosen to do a research paper, by the way!)
2. The project should be a showcase of your favorite creative and academic methods and media. Choose a medium in which you know you can excel or which you have wanted to try out for a while.
3. All work must be your own original work (supported by research). However, you may recruit others to help you present it, especially if it is a play, film, or musical ensemble.
4. In addition to doing research, you may (and are encouraged to) consult with teachers or professionals in the medium you are using. (I will probably recruit drama and visual arts teachers to help me evaluate the students' work in those fields, since I am weaker in those than in writing and music.)
5. Plan ahead to practice, polish, and perfect both your work and its method of presentation. Do not leave the final product for the last week.
6. This project must take as much work as a traditional research paper; approximately 2 hours a week for three months, then more time for a week or two, then almost all of your waking hours for the last week! Make sure it is sizable enough in scope, but not too big. It should reflect the best of what you have learned this year, but be possible to complete without overtaking all of your other schoolwork—and life!
7. In addition to the book itself, you must use at least 4 good, scholarly, print resources.
- At least one source must be a biography of the author.
- At least two sources must be “literary criticism.” I can help you find these.
- Other print sources could include history books about the historical context of the work, other books written by your author, books about art or music that influenced your text, philosophical or scientific texts that influenced your author, magazine essays analyzing the book, articles discussing theatrical or film productions of the book, and book reviews of your text.
8. You must also use at least one primary source. It could be a print source or an online source. This could be music/art from the time period, newspaper articles, diaries/journals/letters, etc. Other teachers and I can help you find these depending on their nature.
9. Additional sources are optional: online sources (but make sure they are reliable), film or theatre productions of your book, interviews, art and music relevant to your study, technical manuals about your chosen medium, etc.
10. You may also choose to integrate an “issue” or “event” that is of importance to the book you are studying (like how we integrated the history of eugenics into our discussion of Brave New World, for example). In fact, this big idea or historical movement can almost end up being more important to your project than the book itself, as long as you are using the book as a platform or foundation from which to explore this concept.
11. The purpose of this project is to explore and present the content and ideas of your chosen book (and its overarching historical context) as fully as possible in a creative way. When you have finished, your audience/readers should feel as if they have (1) read the book, (2) thought about the social, political, and/or other historical context of the book, and (3) experienced your best possible creative work. It is a synthesis of your talent and the author’s.