Genre Genius: Our Evolving #GeniusHour Plans

Tuesday, February 28, 20177:41 PM

I’ve spent a lot of time lately in my search for genius. I love opportunities to have my students question, wonder, investigate, and create, and have had great experiences with #GeniusHour and passion-based learning in the classroom.

But I struggle, too, about how well it meets the needs of all learners and how to make sure that the project doesn’t overlap too directly with my students’ existing programs. I wrote all about these challenges and our growing Ossining Capstone program a few weeks ago in Perplexed by Passion: Planning for a Better #GeniusHour and 4 Ways Students Were Surprised by Passion-Based Learning.

Basically, I needed to work with my students to figure out the best way to adapt and evolve the #GeniusHour concept to meet our needs. In the end, this year’s decision focused on a marriage of the open-ended inquiry of passion-based learning and my hope of helping my students develop a love of stories.

Genius is Adaptable

One of my favorite things about the #GeniusHour concept is the ability to adapt it to any subject area, age level, or curriculum. In the past, I’ve made strong efforts not to tie this work into anything that has too much to do with English. If a student was passionate about writing, literature, or stories, that’s great, but otherwise they had free reign. There is no one model or one blanket statement that works for you or your students.

Similarly, students can find ways to tie their passions to the sciences, arts, and other humanities, too. They can (and should) be inquiring, wondering, and, creating in all of our classes. They should be learning to ask hard questions, explore new ideas, and driving our curriculum.

So that’s exactly what we will do.


The guidelines are wildly simple: investigate a genre of storytelling, master it, and synthesize your learning to create something cool.
  • Learn about the genre--it’s stories, tropes, origins, authors, etc.
  • Propose a study: genre, goal, product, etc.
  • Read/consume a range of texts (one long text; some scholarly works; some short texts; a visual text)
  • Synthesize your consumption through creation: make/do something for an authentic audience

All we have so far is the big idea, but we will develop the rest together. I love the idea of asking students to propose plans for their research instead of me dictating length, quantity, or difficulty of texts. Immediately after introducing #GenreGenius, lightbulbs went off in my classroom. “So I can create a horror movie?” asked Xavier. Patrick finally has the chance to write his creative story. Maggie walked out and told me, “This project actually sounds pretty cool.”

And they can and will. After inquiry, research, questioning, a lot of reading, writing, and synthesis. I think I’ll ask student to blog about their progress, but these blogs may look like more of a reading diary of some sort of genre-based reflection. I want to make sure that there’s a push for some scholarly readying or criticism in each plan. Besides that, the stories and our passions will drive us.

Introducing #GenreGenius

To start, I asked students to read "Can Science Explain Why We Like Stories?" from The New Yorker. They read, annotated, and posted on our Google Community examining their own storytelling passions. I asked students:

What kind of stories do you like and why? Discuss your favorite genre of storytelling and try to explain why--develop a claim about the value of this genre.

Their answers were interesting and diverse. I hope that this assignment helped them to begin to think critically about their storytelling and literary tastes. Here’s a sample of some of their responses:
  • I like a variety of story genres, but I am always most excited when reading fantasy stories. From myths to urban fantasy to tales of magic, I always get pulled in by those that have a blend of the otherworldly with the normal. Fantasy is so intriguing to me because it often shows another world that exists alongside or within our own that is magical. It gives the reader freedom to come up with wild theories about what might happen next, and the possibility that in this world, the theory could be true. Fantasy is important as a genre because it allows the reader to imagine without limit, and the theme of the special coexisting with the ordinary often reflects the hope or fear that there s something "other" out there that we can't see. Another value is that the reader gets to observe ordinary people become extraordinary. For readers this validates the idea that you can change and become a new person over time.
  • I enjoy reading romance, science fiction and fantasy stories all in one. I like the fantasy because it's exciting and always makes me wonder what could be in a different society. I like science fiction because it makes me think and it's really interesting what the authors come up with. And I like romance because I like the drama and I like that it's always so predictable. All together these genres really interest me and I love reading them.
  • My favorite genre of story is fantasy. I love stories that can create a world that you would want to live in. It can give you an escape from your world and everything going on around you. For example, stories like Narnia are perfect because they encompass action and love into one story. Authors also make the characters relatable and likable which makes you want to find out their outcome. These stories also make you feel good. 
  • My favorite genre is mystery, because it's really hard to stop reading because it provides so much suspense that you always want to find out what’s next. I specifically love this topic because people everywhere are courageous and that's good and for you to have that in books to open people’s mind is fascinating. Besides having fun reading this, it's really to read and even better to reread and learn things you missed.

Evolution of Genius

I’ll miss the more open #GeniusHour but I’m excited about a new spin on the concept. I’m really proud of the work my students did with it last year, but my English Teacher side can’t help but think about what got me into this profession: the stories.

I’m looking forward to helping my students discover their passions, stories, and genius.

How have you adapted #GeniusHour or passion-based learning in your practice? What advice do you have for your evolving #GenreGenius? Share your ideas in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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