"Talk-Aloud" Unit Planning: How to Wiki the French Revolution

[Update: Jonathan, your comments are so helpful. Thanks and keep them coming. You know I’ll be commenting back ;-) ]

I could scribble notes or work on an asocial Word document, but I figure doing it here might invite some free collaboration and good ideas from those of you reading along. If you don’t know how to use wikis, I hope this “Think-Aloud” will help you learn; and if you do know wikis, I hope you’ll help me learn.

Objective: Students will “write to learn” about the French Revolution by role-playing specific characters or members of social classes involved in the events, using the Wiki “Ant Farm” project design.

Okay, so what does that mean?

Unit Scope and Sequence:

They’re going to read about the main events and ideas of the French Revolution (online, I might add. Our textbook is your typical obese, boring, student back-breaking, and biased American specimen–don’t get me started–and the web has much better ones here and here. Note the differentiation in reading level that webtexts offer over textbooks. How many schools realize how much money could be better spent by investing in other things with textbook money, and using web resources for readings?)

That means they’ll have a specific historical start date and end date to limit the project. Say, from the summoning of the Estates General to the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Good: I’ve got my bookends.

Now I need to subdivide the events between the first and last event. (It would be better to do this on a wiki instead of a blog, because I could revise the same wikipage. Editing this blog with revisions, on the other hand, won’t save old drafts and also won’t save this post from being buried under all the entries I post afterwards. I write this to those trying to get the different writing uses of blogs and wikis.) Some events I remember off the top of my head:

    1. crisis over voting method (class conflict)
    2. June 10, ’89: formation of the National Assembly and Tennis Court Oath
    3. June 23: Assembly disobeys Louis’ order to disband
    4. late June: rural peasant unrest–bread convoys for Paris attacked and plundered, boycott of dues, taxes, rents, and tithes; burning landlords’ houses and records because of rumors (the “Great Fear”)
    5. Arisotcrats terrified–Assembly exploits this fear by representing rural “Third Estate”
    6. June 27: Elites refuse Louis’ call for compromise: stalemate
    7. Louis mobilizes the army around Paris and Versailles

    1. Inflation in Paris (bread costs 80% of workers’ income) and rumors of Aristocrat conspiracy to topple the Assembly
    2. July 14: Storming of the Bastille (mostly women!)

    1. [I’ll finish this later. The online textbook readings are all “sticky-noted” with my annotations on my Diigo bookmarks, so it’s easy enough to transfer that to here later.]
  1. July 1788-June ’89: Louis XVI summons the Estates General:
  2. July ’89:
  3. August ’89:

Okay, so when that’s finished with events leading through the terror to Napoleon, I’ve got my topics for the writing-to-learn wiki project. The next thing I need to do is figure out the roles the students will play.

How? Seems like main characters and social types are the logical answer.

Wiki Writing Simulation Roles:

    1. Rural peasant
    2. Urban artisan
    3. Urban bourgeois
    4. Urban Philosophe (ooh–Voltaire?)
    5. Rural landlord
    6. Soldier
    7. Executioner (ooh–a view from the guillotine!)
    8. Bastille prison guard?
    9. Court servant at Versailles?
  1. Louis XVI
  2. Marie Antoinette
  3. Members of the First Estate–upper clergy
  4. Lower clergy
  5. Members of the Second Estate–upper nobility
  6. Lower nobility
  7. Members of the Third Estate:
  8. Robespierre
  9. David (painter)
  10. Thomas Jefferson (wasn’t he there? Or was it John Adams?)
  11. etc [Again, to be continued]

Does it matter if some roles are taken by multiple students? I don’t think so. They can take different genders and age groups to spice the stories up.

Should I team students somehow? I think so–not to write the same character, but to give feedback on each others’ writing. Pairs? More? Homo- or heterogeneous ability groups?

I want the teams’ characters to encounter other characters in the stories as the simulation advances and they get time to know each others’ writings. I need to decide how many encounters each student must write with other students’ characters.

It would be fun to let them encounter student characters from the other class!

I need to divide the unit into lessons to determine how many role-play writings they do.

I need to decide on the length of each entry.

I need to decide on the criteria for success (rubric): factual accuracy (make a list of factors they have to address y number of per post), insight into the impact of each event on the character (causes/effects of decisions and reactions, motives, emotions), imagination and creativity, effective introductory scene, conflict, complication, climax (plot), proper use of dialog conventions, plus mechanics and conventions. I’ll make the rubric tomorrow.

I want them to include pictures on their wiki pages. Maybe audio voice files of them acting out certain scenes (or videos, for that matter: film–post to YouTube–embed on wiki. Easy and fun multimedia.)

AHA. Which brings me to the 20th century blind spot: presentation and appearance (design) of wiki page was a telling absence in my rubric brainstorm above. Web/visual design skills are more important in the digital age, and these kids face a better future if they develop those “new visual literacy” skills now instead of later.

Okay, I’m hungry. I’ll finish later. WOULD LOVE SOME IDEAS OR FEEDBACK.

See more? Say more...

  1. virtualjonathan writes
    I was wondering if you could get heterogenous groups to build up general knowledge bases for your character ‘types,’ but then students could INDIVIDUALLY write as different characters within their categories, eg. a group of students develop a general character set/conditions for peasants, but then students INDIVIDUALLY start to write/develop their own characters which then COMMUNALLY interact within the simulation.

    This would probably work well for your peasants & such, but then you have your ‘main’ characters to deal with?

    HOWEVER, there are so many layers to your main ‘characters’ that can be discovered with some decent digging that it might also reveal both inner & external conflict as the simulation progresses.

    Would it be such a bad thing if multiple students wrote on a single person, but then all of the ideas didn’t necessarily agree? I’d argue that this would probably lead to a more powerful form of deconstruction/discourse than if a single student took on the role of a single character. Complexity and disagreement is important.

    You didn’t expect me to suggest the easy road, did you?

  2. brilliant idea, j
    Thanks, Jonathan! Let me close the feedback loop and process your suggestions back to you.

    1. GROUPS research main social groups, characters, and post their articles “wikipedia” style. Check! Done! LOVE IT. (And I would add, social, economic, political, cultural, and foreign relations background info too.) This would serve as their knowledge base for creating their characters with more historical accuracy. They could even add some images of peasant dwellings, country estates, Versailles, Paris, the Bastille, and so forth to fuel their imaginations. So: Stage One: Research on “Micropedia,” in groups.

    2. If I get your second point, you’re saying something like: assign a “peasant group,” say, and let each student create their own peasant character and stories, and interact with other characters within their group? That’s similar to what I was thinking, but it’s fun to think about it further: it’s almost Faulknerian, the points of view possibilities. Can you imagine one student, say, writing as a peasant child, recounting the same experience as another student, writing as an adult male peasant neighbor? Very cool!

    While I don’t think you’re saying not to do this, I just repeat that the different groups would also “communally interact” with characters from other, conflicting, groups: peasants with lords and priests, Louis with a palace servant, etc.

    3. Not sure I get your “internal and external conflict” idea clearly. Elaborate?

    But I LOVE the idea of letting multiple students ALL write one character–Louis XVI or Robespierre, for example. So many conversations can come from this about historians’ conflicting interpretations and characterizations of characters, etc.

    As you say, “complexity and disagreement is important.” CHECK!

    NEW CONSEQUENCES: It seems I’ll need to build in certain dramatic encounters at each point in the writing process. If I don’t, then it’s possible that students won’t write/learn about the key encounters, clashes, and conflicts of different characters and groups. Do you see what I’m saying? I picture all the peasant group hanging out together and not looking at or interacting with the other classes, or ever seeing the King or priests. Thoughts?

    Thanks again.

    And another idea: Do you want to play with the project, once it’s started? Maybe you can make a guest appearance as Napoleon ;-)

    The funny thing is, I’m only half kidding. Why should I be the only teacher?

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