Thursday, January 15, 2015

Serial in School - Update

When I first started this unit on the Serial Podcast, I hoped my students would be engaged. I hoped they would be troubled by the injustice. I hoped they would take away a greater understanding of how the court system works. 

This week, we finished up Episode 12. It's been a wild ride following the ups and downs of Adnan Syed's case. Serial in School: Episodes 1-6 are detailed here on the blog (Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6). Here's a quick update on how we covered the remaining episodes: 

Episode 7: (The Opposite of the Prosecution) Students took detailed notes in their Case Logs. We stopped the podcast regularly to discuss Deidre Enright and The Innocence Project. 

Episode 8: (The Deal with Jay) Students doodled on large pieces of paper while listening to this episode. Each subsequent class added more doodles. I had one student who was convinced Adnan was guilty. After this episode, he definitively changed his mind. 

Episode 9:  (To Be Suspected) Students took Case Log notes for this episode, as it contained a lot of very detailed information. We paused it many times to talk about the judicial system. Most of my students only knew what they had seen on TV (ok, I'm in this group, too - I learned a lot from this podcast and following Rabia Chaudry). For example, we had never thought about the utter mundaneness of court proceedings How you could be sitting there for hours, days, weeks - and not be able to defend yourself against outrageous charges. How you would need to maintain an air of decorum, because even a sigh could be misinterpreted. 

Episode 10:  (The Best Defense is a Good Defense) THIS episode was killer. My students were livid with Christina Gutierrez. They were angry at Kevin Uric. They were shocked at the negligence of Adnan's defense. They were disheartened by the news that the mistrial could have been the difference between Adnan's acquittal and conviction. Again, the students took picture notes. 

Episode 11: (Rumors) While this episode was light on any actual information pertinent to the case, it was a good discussion starter. We paused to talk about "Besmirch" and how very powerful words can be in racial perception. Perhaps what angered my students the most was the way the prosecutor talked about Adnan as a Pakistani, rather than as an American. These insights give me hope for the next generation. 

Episode 12: (What We Know) I told students that they were getting a listening quiz on this episode, because I wanted to ensure good notes. Students went back to their Case Logs and added information for Don, Josh, and Deirdre Enright. Some of my classes listened to this episode on January 13th - the anniversary of Hae Min Lee's tragic death. This led to discussions about the reality of this series - Serial is not simply an engaging story, but a true saga with real people. We talked about journalistic integrity, and Sarah Koenig's professionalism throughout this process (especially when contrasted with The Intercept's interviews). 

Midterms are up next. I have exciting plans, but I don't want to share too much in case my curious students find this blog post before exams! After exams are over, I will share more about how I incorporated Serial into the History midterm. 

To conclude: After listening to the podcasts and discussing recent developments, my students are 100% convinced that Adnan should not have been convicted for the murder of Hae Min Lee.  

One more thing before I finish - BIG NEWS!!! Rabia Chaudry responded to my email, and we are trying to work out a time for her to Skype or Hangout with one of my classes. I think this will add another level of reality for my students. What an amazing opportunity! Thank you, Rabia. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 6

During class today, I told my students that I had reached out to Rabia Chaudry, and she had responded. Rabia wanted to know how I made the connection between Serial and History, and what questions my students had for her. After talking it over with students, I wrote my response:

Dear Rabia, 

Thank you so much for your kind response. I must say - you've raised my street cred with my students. They are very impressed that you responded to my message. 

Serial has been a huge hit in the classroom. I was listening to Serial while creating a unit for my history class. I was examining the standards I wanted to highlight (understanding bias, analyzing multiple sources, interpreting primary documents, evidence-based writing) and it came to me that Serial would be the perfect solution. I started out by creating Case Logs with my students where they have been using Google Docs to collaboratively keep track of the unfolding story. My students have created character maps to trace relationships, used charts to plot their changing opinions on Adnan’s guilt or innocence, and taken detailed notes on the call logs. 

I teach in a rural town academy in Maine. We are a private school contracted by the town to provide public education to the local students. We also have a thriving international boarding community at our school. These diverse groups of students have brought vibrancy to class discussions on this case.

I told my students that many of the listeners of the podcast are in the twenties to forties and that these listeners have been diligently tracking the case on reddit and other places. But I also told them that as teenagers, they have a valid voice in this discussion and may be able to think through the case with a different lens because they are close in age to Hae, Adnan, Jay, and others when the murder was committed. 

The primary responses I have heard over and over have been: “How can the justice system be so messed up?” and “We are only teenagers, and we could do a better job with this case.”

I asked my students what questions they have for you, and these were what we came up with:

  1. Why have we not hear Adnan’s testimony?
  2. Why do you believe so adamantly that Adnan is not guilty?
  3. Can you think of any reason why someone would want to set Adnan up?
  4. Why do you think Serial is so popular?
  5. Have you talked to Adnan during the Serial broadcast? If so, what about?
  6. While listening to the podcast, have you ever doubted?
  7. What would you want teenagers to learn from Serial?

Thank you again for responding! It means the world to me and my students. Keep fighting the good fight.

~ Hannah Walden

Here's the funny thing. Funny isn't the right word, but it'll do. I'm listening to Serial extensively with my classes, but we are only halfway through the series. I read the transcripts, do research, and put a lot of focus into each episode we listen to. But each week, I'm also listening to the current Serial episode. Sometimes it's hard for me to keep track of which information is covered in what episode, because I don't want to spoil anything for my students. However, I do feel like I benefit from the intense look at previous episodes before listening to the current episodes.

But back to Episode 6 - this episode focuses on the evidence against Adnan. The suspicious activity at Cathy's house, the Nisha Call, the Neighbor Boy... all is layed out here. My students plotted their opinions on Adnan's guilt throughout the episode. Every five or so minutes, I stopped the recording, and students evaluated the evidence to that point.

Most charts looked something like this. The general consensus was that the evidence was concerning, but then by the end of the episode, they felt like all was cast in doubt again. I wanted them to visually see how confusing all the evidence really is. Mission accomplished. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 5

This episode led to a passionate discussion. My students had a completely different reaction than I expected. For me, the cell phone records clearly demonstrate that such technology (particularly in 1999) is unreliable and inaccurate. It does not prove or disprove Adnan's case, but instead demonstrates yet another way the case was mishandled.  For my students, they shifted from wishy-washiness to polarization. He's guilty. He's innocent. Bam. Done.

When I challenged them on their opinions, most students seemed to feel like there was enough evidence to make Adnan's case settled. Guilty until proven innocent, indeed.

I couldn't let this rest - I felt like perhaps I misrepresented the facts and that's why students jumped to their conclusions. To combat this, I assigned a writing piece. I had my students read Rabia Chaudry's blog post: Serial Episode 5: Let's Talk About Cells Baby. Then I had them write a one page essay unpacking the new information they had learned from Rabia. Did this information change their opinions? It remains to be seen. Due to several snowdays, students are still working on their essays. I'm looking forward to reading them and looking at the episode freshly through teenage eyes.

By the way, I would love to set up a Skype/Facetime with Rabia Chaudry and my students. They have QUESTIONS!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 4

My students and I had an interesting observation today. You can chart the closeness of a person's relationship to Adnan based on the pronunciation of his name. This is not 100% accurate, but close enough that it caught our interest.

For example:

1. Ahnon (with emphasis on the "non") - Adnan himself, Sarah Koenig, Saad & Rabia, Close friends & family
2. Ahdnon (similar to the first pronunciation, but quick "d" sound in the middle) - Friends, Close acquaintances
3. Ahdnon (emphasis on the "Ah") - Acquaintances. People who knew Adnan, but weren't particularly close.
4. Add-non (emphasis on the "Add") - Detectives, people unfamiliar with Adnan

What we found particularly noteworthy, was Christina Gutirrez's pronunciation. It's somewhere between #3 & #4. What does this say about her and her relationship with Adnan? Why could she not say his name right, after all the time they must have spent together?

Episode 4 focuses on the inconsistencies in Jay's testimony. Why does his story shift? Does Jenn's testimony cause Jay to change his? To map this out, the students took notes on a chart comparing the first taped interview with the second taped interview.

To quote one of my students:
"We are high school students! And we see the mess that this is. How could they trust Jay's testimony?"
 This episode swung many students back to Team Adnan. From a student journal:
At this point in the case, I'm definitely leaning towards Adnan being innocent. Hearing the small but very important details coming from Jay and Jenn, at the end of today's episode, I feel that the evidence of Adnan's guilt, is a stretch. At this point, there is more evidence and details that would make Jay a better suspect. His inability to keep his story straight makes him very suspicious and makes it easier to believe in Adnan's innocence.

Another journal:
Adnan is NOT guilty. The only 'evidence' that they have against him is Jay's story. Assumptions aren't always correct, so their prosecution of Adnan wasn't on the right terms. Jay's story has key details and that's very important. Asia McClain claims that she saw Adnan in the library at the time of the murder. Inez claims that she was the last one to see her and reports that Hae asked to make sure the bus didn't leave without her. She also says that Adnan was NOT in her car. There are all of these factors working against Adnans guilt. Yet the cops are certain that he's guilty. There was a camera in the library at the time, was it looked at? No. There was cellular evidence in the alcohol bottle in the park, was it looked at? No. I suspect that one of the cops was either prejudice or just had a grudge against Adnan.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 3

My diagram

The theories were fast and furious today - Mr. S. definitely threw a wrench into the mix. While listening, we stopped the episode many times to make comments and conjectures.

I physically demonstrated in the classroom the layout of the Leakin park burial site, to show how strange it was that Hae's body was on the stream side of the log. By the end of the episode, most students seemed to agree with Sarah Koenig that Mr. S. overheard about the location of the body and concocted his own story.

This episode is a brilliant part of the overarching narrative. I reminded my students that we must always consider that Koenig is telling a story. We do not know everything that she knows. What I like so much about this episode is the pacing. Koenig sets up this new character from left field who adds a new interest to the story. THEN, she waits until there are only six minutes left in the episode to spring the real kicker: he's a streaker! Talk about comic relief. Like I said - brilliant.

Students waffled again on their opinions of Adnan's guilt when I polled at the end of class. Their uncertainty is a testimony to Koenig's narrative.

To help my students keep track of everything, we visually mapped out their case logs today (I'll add pictures later when they are turned in). Students used the app PureFlow to map relationships. For each person of interest, they gave a keyword to help jog their memory, and then drew arrows to demonstrate connections. On these arrows, they wrote short phrases detailing those connections.

In addition, I had students write their first journal entry where they had to defend their poll vote. Why do they think Adnan is guilty or innocent? What evidence led to that decision?

Student Character Map

Monday, November 24, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 2

Class started with a review of the case facts. We covered suspects and witnesses. We also discussed Sarah Koenig's interpretation of the evidence, and how we must be on the lookout for bias. Many of the students referenced Koenig's description of Adnan's "dairy cow" brown eyes during this discussion.

Then we listened to Episode 2. There was much giggling during the reading of Hae's diary. This again highlights how accessible this story is to today's high schoolers. They understand Hae. They understand Adnan. They understand the hot and cold of teenage love.

Following Episode 2, student took a listening quiz. To answer the questions, students started with a position statement and then backed that up with evidence. The quiz was open notes. I created the quiz in a Google Form and set the character minimum to 200 to encourage students to write more than one sentence answers. Overall, the students did well and I was encouraged to see no "I think" or "I feel" answers. All answers were solidly based on fact.

To close out the class, I again polled students on Adnan's guilt. It's interesting to note the swing. For my 7th period class who was solidly in the "no" camp after episode 1, 9 people jumped into the "maybe" camp and 2 people moved into the "yes" camp. On the other hand, 8th period felt like Episode 2 solidified Adnan's innocence, and more moved into the "no" camp.

Of note: Students came into class excited to listen to the next episode. They were brimming with questions and suspicions. During class, students continued to fill out their case logs. One student took over four pages of notes. I couldn't have designed a higher-interest unit for this quarter.

Student theories: So far, most believe that Jay was involved in some sort of cover-up.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 1

Serial Bulletin Board - we will be adding much, much more here.
Class started with me asking students to remember where there were and what they were doing a week ago. A few people could give details, but not many. Then we went back six weeks. The details were even sketchier. Those who could describe their activities mirrored Sarah Koenig's observation that major events can help anchor the mundane.

Interest levels were high when I introduced the unit. None of the students were aware of the podcast, but they were drawn in by the accessible nature of the story. 

I paired students up in teams with a shared Google Doc to use as a Case Log. Students took notes while listening to the first episode.

My favorite moment in class was near the beginning of the podcast when the details of the case were plainly laid out. The closing statements of the prosecution included something to the fact that Adnan was obviously guilty because he was leading a duplicitous life - acting as a different person at home than at school. Several of my students raised both their hands in shock and yelled out, "By that logic, we'd all be guilty of murder!" They get it. 

My plan is to poll the students at the end of each class. Yesterday, one class believed entirely in Adnan's innocence. 

Is Adnan guilty?
Another class had a mixed reaction, with many of them in the "maybe" category. They found Asia Mcclain's story fishy. One student commented that he thought Asia redacted her initial statement because the real killer started threatening her. 

I've had some people ask how this unit fits into an academic setting. Last week, I was looking through the Common Core standards to see how well I was aligning (we are not required at my school). So many of the recommendations for 10th grade social studies will be covered in this unit - everything from analyzing non-fiction, building arguments with credible evidence, and unearthing bias. Slam dunk.