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  1. BUILDINGWORLDS Collaborative Fantasy and Science Fiction Composition Joshua Caton, Licking Valley H.S.

  2. Context • Rural Ohio school district with 720 students • 36% free and reduced lunch • Average ACT score is 21.7 • 43% of seniors plan to go to a 4-year College or University • 13% actually attend a 4-year college or university

  3. Context • Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, an elective course • Electives designed to use student interests to increase student engagement and build reading and writing skills • Leveraging student out-of-school interests • Linking student and teacher interests • Students from all four grade levels • Currently: 12 male, 13 female students • Reading List: The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings; A Wizard of Earthsea; Dune; Ender’s Game; plus some short stories, graphic novels, or other based on student interest.

  4. Project Goals • Primary goal: To help students come to a greater understanding of the craft of science fiction and fantasy authors and the genres themselves by engaging in the work • Secondary goal: To have students write—and have fun doing it!

  5. NCTE/ IRA Standards • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

  6. NCTE/ IRA Standards • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes. • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

  7. NCTE/ IRA Standards • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge. • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

  8. Evolving Role of the Teacher • Teacher wrote along with students, contributing to sections of the world • Teacher’s contributions were no more or less important to the whole than students’ • Teacher’s role shifted from authority figure to collaborator, or co-creator. • When surveyed, majority of students identified teacher as a co-creator or guide.

  9. The Work of the Project • Crafting a completely original, fictional world, including: • Cosmologies • Timelines • Regional or geographical profiles • Character biographies • “Historic” writings (songs/ poems/ prophecies) • Narratives

  10. Project History: Overview • 2007: Each student created his or her own world individually; no collaboration • 2008: Whole class collaborated on a single fictional world, using a wiki • 2009: Small groups of 3-7 collaborating students creating a world within their group • 2010: Return to the 2008 model, full-class collaboration on a single world

  11. Project History: Year 1 • Students worked individually, developing their own world with maps, characters, legends and stories. • Lessons Learned • Student’s writing was isolated—little to no conversation about their creation or the process • Students “ran out of steam” as the semester progressed, and had trouble coming up with ideas.

  12. Project History: Year 2 • Class collaborated to create a single fictional world. Student writing moved to a wiki to foster communication and collaboration • Lessons Learned: • Collaboration among students led to much greater depth, detail and endurance in the project. • Digital tools enhanced the writing process in exciting ways. • Discussion boards were useful, but students writing online together in class was where some of the most powerful collaboration occurred. • Assessing the work is difficult.

  13. Project History: Year 3 • Due to increased class size, students were grouped into smaller groups and created multiple fictional worlds • Lessons Learned: • Small groups did not produce work of the same depth as the previous year’s whole-class project, and many again “ran out of steam” • Literary conversations linked to the project were less rich, because we lacked a common “world” to link to our texts • Student interest in digital tools took the project in unplanned directions, such as game design. • Students continued to write and create after our class ended.

  14. The Project Now • Largest SFF class ever, but we have returned to the single-world collaborative writing. • Lessons learned: • In-class writing time remains a valuable tool for fostering collaboration • Assessment is still difficult. • Challenge in “keeping up” with what’s happening in the world due to the large class size.

  15. Free Resources

  16. Free Resources • AutoREALM • Free map making software designed for RPG players

  17. Free Resources • Terragen • Generates life-like landscapes with no photo editing or graphic design ability required

  18. Free Resources • GIMP • Free image manipulation software for creating or enhancing pictures or other art

  19. Free Resources* • RPG Maker • Engine that allows for the creation of 2D role-playing games • *Comes with a 30-day free trial

  20. Other Resources • Online translators • Great for generating names of places or characters • Role-playing game websites and sourcebooks •, some video game sites offer lots of inspiration for designing regions, characters, etc. • See for more resource ideas.

  21. Student Learning • English Language Arts Standards • Writing and Reading Learning are Integrated, Not Separated • "I had the idea of the Lobos before I read Beren and Luthien, and Tolkien's ideas about werewolves interested me a lot more because I wanted to see the difference between mine and his. And Tolkien's ending to The Return of the King has also made me imagine the ending to my story; I have re-thought the outcome many times over, trying to think of exactly what I was focusing on in the story. I think that I definitely appreciated the ending to ROTK better because I am writing a story as well.“ – Student Exam Response

  22. Student Learning • English Language Arts Standards • Writing for a Real Audience • Students know from the outset that others will read and perhaps make use of their ideas. • Students negotiate plot lines, characterizations to maintain continuity with co-writers/ members of their “audience”

  23. Student Learning • English Language Arts Standards • Writing for a Real Audience • Students know from the outset that others will read and perhaps make use of their ideas. • Students negotiate plot lines, characterizations to maintain continuity with co-writers/ members of their “audience”

  24. Student Learning • English Language Arts Standards • Appreciation of the Literature • "Creating Erstellen at first seemed easy and that it wouldn't be hard to make up a whole bunch of nonsense and throw it together. That's what fantasy in general was to me, nonsense. But after reading and thinking about how complex and how much time goes into these art works amazes me. I think it's unbelievable how a person could come up with a whole other world and actually make it living and make it come together as smooth and connected as Mr. Tolkien does. Reading his books opened my mind on fantasy and gave me flowing ideas that I could work with and now made sense to me. I have fallen in love with fantasy literature.“ – Student Exam Response

  25. Student Learning • English Language Arts Standards • Understanding diverse perspectives • “I think I’m learning other people’s view of the real world, because of how they view their fake world. Tolkien’s world is so black and white in terms of good vs. evil; I would never have made mine that black and white. And [another student’s] people are like, Buddhists, which is a different perspective than what I would create.” -- Comment from current SFF Student

  26. Student Learning • 21st Century Skills • Some questions asked in NCTE’s Position Statement on 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment • Do students evaluate and use digital tools and resources that match the work they are doing? • Do students work in a group in ways that allow them to create new knowledge or to solve problems that can’t be created or solved individually? • Do students work in groups of members with diverse perspectives and areas of expertise? • Do students build on one another’s thinking to gain new understanding? • Do students learn to share disagreements and new ways of thinking in ways that positively impact the work? • Do students gain new understandings by being part of a group or team? • Do students share and publish their work in a variety of ways?

  27. Challenges • Access: not all students have Internet access outside of school, which can especially limit the effectiveness of online discussion tools • Access: Finding lab time in school for in-class writing can be problematic.

  28. Challenges • Grading of collaborative wiki work—whose idea was it? Where does one writer begin and another end? How heavily have students “borrowed” from familiar sources such as games or books? • What to assess: Depth of Writing? Use of Details? Creativity or Uniqueness? Level of Collaboration? Keep in mind this is not designed as a creative writing class. • In short, I have not found the right rubric/ tool/ set of tools for assessing the actual writing.

  29. Challenges • I feel more comfortable using Building Worlds as a lens through which to view and understand our reading in these genres—but the project requires a lot of work for that to be its only focus. • An example question from our most recent Quarterly Assessment: Your thesis statement should specify your position on the topic of world building and its impact on fantasy tales. You should also include specific instances from the Lord of the Rings where the background material described in The Silmarillion plays a part. . . You should also include some discussion of your work in the Building Worlds project . . .

  30. Other Considerations • Teachers and students must be comfortable with a project that is unfinished. Put another way, we get used to the idea that this project is un-finishable. • Students may know more about the tools than you do—that’s a good thing!