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Is Big Brother Watching You?

While many may think that AP English involves little more than dissecting some relatively dusty tome about mid-19th century Britain, not so for Margaret Lee's AP English class. Applying the best techniques for educating today's students, Margaret's class used their study of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy to investigate broader themes in today's society. The posters the students produced, which you can view below, cover a wide range of very socially relevant topics -- and all are directly related to themes that came out of these two works. We talked with Margaret about the project.

BTG: Can you describe the assignment/how it came to be? 

Margaret Lee: The goal was to extend our study of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy by investigating topics in the books. We wanted to create a gallery or small museum exhibit where people could learn about subjects that have particular relevance today—privacy in the digital age, what torture does to the brain, how digital communication may be changing the way we think, why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, the social cost of prisons, and others.

I began thinking about the project at an English teachers’ conference last spring. I watched WA grad Hannah Silvers ’13 present a poster about her research at Elon University and thought my students would like this mode of sharing ideas.

BTG: Is this a project you've done frequently with your classes?

ML: No, the project was an experiment. Sometimes, we felt like we were—forgive the cliché—building the airplane as we flew it, but the students liked the challenge. Together, we figured out how to construct the posters on PowerPoint slides sized to 24 x 36 or 36 x 48. The students helped and inspired one another. Other Woodward staff with expertise in research and graphic design generously came to our work sessions as consultants at key moments. Debate coach Bill Batterman helped students frame their topics, and graphic artist Lauren Cronon critiqued the poster design. Librarians Ann Haber and Jill Hanson arranged the display in the library into vignettes of posters and related books from library's collection.

BTG: Obviously, these projects tackled some socially important issues. How did students choose their topics?

ML: Together, students created a long list of possible topics. Later, individuals and groups of two let their curiosity guide them as they selected a particular focus. Seeing students discover for themselves how our classroom texts relate to the greater world was rewarding, to say the least!

BTG: What made you choose a designed poster as the medium of choice for this assignment?

ML: The process of writing a paper is usually solitary, and the product is often shared only with the teacher. The poster is shared with a community. It has permanence. The poster presentations encouraged dialogue. People in our audiences asked great questions, and we hope they continued their conversations beyond the library. I plan to keep the dialogue going next year by creating a space on the third floor of Woodruff Hall where we can display a few posters on a single subject at a time.



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