I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes documentaries. Whether it’s a captivating musician on VH1’s Behind the Music, an eternal sport with Ken Burns’ Baseball, or some commonly used gadget on the Science Channel’s How It’s Made, I am constantly amazed by the underlying complexity of greatness.

Take, for example, the iconic symbol in Forrest Gump…a meandering feather. Unless you watched this three-minute documentary, you would never imagine that something so seemingly simple demanded countless hours of digital rendering and choreographed acting.

And this same attention to detail is precisely why the “90-Second Summary” is such an effective classroom assignment.

The assignment goes something like this:

After studying John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men through whole-class interactive learning structures and improvisational acting, I ask students for volunteer team leaders. For this particular literature, teams of 12-15 are just about perfect.

Once the leaders have stepped forth, they both draft their teammates in an organized and anonymous fashion. Once the teams have been announced, the students get to work on the following assignment details:

Although the assignment may not seem daunting on paper, believe me, it is an arduous task for teams consisting entirely of energetic, talkative and headstrong students. Ultimately, the students must gel together to determine ways to organize their brilliant ideas, to assign team roles and to produce a polished product that exemplifies clarity, creativity and cohesive literary themes.

Take a look at our students’ products for yourself. Surely you can spare 90 seconds.

Just remember, you will have to decide if you see greatness. However, if a behind-the-scenes documentary of this assignment were filmed, it would undoubtedly reveal detail and rigor.

I even extended the offer to Ken Burns. Let’s hope he returns my call with a favorable answer.

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