Teacher Innovation #2: “Using Affinity Spaces in the Secondary ELA Classroom”

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Post number 2 of the innovation series comes from another friend, but not one I have had the honor of working directly with yet, Derek Wright. Derek has been teaching for 4 years and in that short time has done some amazing work in his classroom and as a leader in his school.  Derek’s emphasis on exploring what James Gee calls “affinity spaces” with students is an innovative approach to building community in a classroom as well as develop those much desired, but often unquantifiable, metacognitive skills.

Previous Teacher Innovation Entries: Part 1

by Derek Wright

A very brief introduction:

All students want to learn. Period. But, if we are being honest with ourselves, all students do not want the way schools are currently setup. Everyday though students are learning, collaborating, and producing new content. They are doing this through an idea called “affinity spaces”. Affinity spaces are note only places where passionate learning takes place, but it is a place where content is being produced and consumed. These are highly engaging places that a community is built around learning, teaching, and producing. I am not going to spend a lot of time writing about the theory behind affinity spaces, but if you are interested in more theory about affinity spaces read Dr. James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literary, and read Dr. Jayne Lammers, Dr. Jen Scott Curwood, and Dr. Alica Marie Magnifico’s article “Toward an affinity space methodology: Considerations for literacy research”.  This assignment idea came from being in Dr. Ryan Rish’s class during my undergraduate degree at KSU.

In the classroom:

As part of my 9th OL research unit, I have the students research the affinity spaces that they are a part of. They become cultural ethnographers by looking at their own places and analyze the places where they live every day. The students are responsible for creating a voice-over video that includes photos, videos, and sounds of their affinity spaces. After the students figure out their affinity spaces, I provide information about the characteristics of what an affinity spaces. Both text mentioned above outline characteristics of what makes a true affinity space; the following are the ones I use in my classroom:

  1. A common endeavor is primary
  2. Participation is self-directed, multi-faceted, and dynamic
  3. Portals are often multi-modal
  4. Affinity Space provide a passionate, public audience for content
  5. Socializing plays an important role in affinity space participation
  6. Leadership role vary in affinity space participation
  7. Knowledge is distributed across entire affinity space
  8. Many portals place a high value on cataloguing content and documenting practices
  9. Affinity Spaces encompass a variety of media specific and social networking portals.

The first thing I do is to go through and discuss the academic vocabulary in these characteristics. I want the students to see this vocabulary and use this vocabulary in their classroom. Once we have a clear vocabulary, I walk through my affinity space of each of these characteristics. The students are provided a graphic organizer. The students complete the graphic organizer by analyzing their spaces that they chose for each of these characteristics. While it could be possible that an affinity space is missing one of the characteristics, it is not that probable. On the graphic organizer, the students must also plan their video out. What kind of videos will they use? Will you use any “self-shot” footage? What other information will you include?


Once the graphic organizer is completed, they write a script for their video. The script is part of the graded component because I want to see their thinking about how to put these characteristics together into coherent information. A lot of this information is going to be new to them, and they do not think about their places as “learning environments”. I want them to focus on analyzing their spaces and not just discuss their spaces as a whole. Depth is important here. Students then create their videos. If you are at a school or with students where creating videos are not an option, they could create a tri-fold poster of this as well.

Once we watch the videos, the students complete one last component of the project. The students what to write two reflection paragraphs on the prompt: “What are the impact of affinity spaces in the traditional school environment? How are they similar? How are they different?”. This last reflection makes the students think about how they learn in school and how they learn out-of-school. Below is an example that I did in college – I used this as a model in my classroom, but I told them I expected theirs to be better.

One of the important ideas to remember is that once this project is done, your students may be asking why you shift back to “regular” school if they do not learn effectively. I do not believe that this can be a one-and-done project. This is a great project to start building community and looking at ways of learning and thinking (metacognition), but it is not the end of the road; it is the beginning. Once the project is complete, consider incorporating some of these characteristics in your own classroom. Let your students become producers of knowledge and not just consumers. Allow your students to become experts in fields and use them in certain situations. Really at the end of the day, just know that all students learn, and they do it effectively.

For any materials, please email me at derekwrightlm@gmail.com or tweet me at @DerekWrightTCH



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