Dr. Lindsay O’Connor was originally planning to have her Modern World Literature Class finish up Shakespeare’s Othello, and move on to a post-colonial novel with similar themes. While they did finish Othello, the rest changed quickly, “I scrapped everything I had planned. I felt like reflecting and responding to the pandemic in various ways became our goal.”
Amazingly, this could not be a more perfect pivot for Dr. O’Connor, who wrote her dissertation on novels written around or during a crisis. She was deeply focused on the 1927 Mississippi Flood, and her own experience during Hurricane Katrina. The pivot to processing the pandemic was a natural fit, especially since she has been using the New York Times teaching portal as a regular resource in her classes.
As part of Dr. O’Connor’s class, students, a combination of juniors and seniors, continue to engage with news stories in ways that make them digestible and relevant to their everyday lives. One of their past assignments included answering the question, “How can we help from home?” The girls researched and discussed the trends in Twitter activism, how it works, and what it means. Dr. O’Connor also had them write a reflection to answer the question, “How has your internet use changed in light of COVID-19?” Some students found that theirs increased, and others found that as soon as schoolwork was complete they wanted to unplug.
One of Dr. O’Connor’s favorite assignments was: Go try something new. It can be anything, as long as you’ve never done it before. The girls then wrote 100 words reflecting on their experience. Maya Y. ’20 made a cake in a mug from a recipe she found online, Scarlett D. ’21 tried solving a rubix cube every day for a week, and Jacky A. ’21 sat down with her family each day to work on a puzzle and take a break from screens. Each experience was shared via Padlet, a website similar to a blog forum where users can make posts to share with a group. Other assignments included submitting reaction videos, short clips of students speaking, to Flipgrid.
Vicki Threlfall ’81 whose daughter, Tess O. ’21, is currently enrolled in the Modern World Literature Class shared, “Foxcroft has done a great job using social media both academically and socially to keep the girls engaged. Flipgrid is so fun! We’ve loved watching them share their experiences and post videos, and quite frankly a lot of what the girls have posted has helped us!”
As a final project, the students must choose one of their smaller writings from previous assignments and expand on it. Dr. O’Connor shares, “I also added in another topic for anyone who really wanted to tackle it: What strengths and weaknesses in our society has COVID-19 exposed?”
“They’re still learning to be good writers and information processors. A lot of these assignments are ways for them to process what they are experiencing, but I also want them to recognize the beautiful spontaneity that thrives during upheaval. Rebecca Solnit wrote A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, a book I used in my dissertation, and I wanted the girls to reflect on that concept. That was really important to me.”
Dr. O’Connor has intentionally blended critical reading and writing skills with current events in the most relevant and spectacular way.
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