Text that Worked!

  • * context: I am in the middle of teaching a unit on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to eighth grade students at a local middle school. *

Hello CA!

I asked my students to do something relatively complex this week – and it worked! I still have much to learn about structuring and facilitating discussions, but slowly and surely the kids are getting better at articulating ideas and responding to each other meaningfully. It feels like it’s going to be worth all the leg work by the time we get to the big conversations near the trial.

This week moved through a section I did NOT really plan earlier this spring (I think one of these lessons may have been one about which you wrote “I’m not sure what they’re talking about?” because all I did was outline a procedure…!). However, as a result, I was able to take some underdeveloped ideas and flesh them out.

We’ve begun focusing on the unit’s second set of essential questions – how does role influence identity? – and we’ve honed in specifically on gender. After spending a day talking briefly about what it means to be a Southern gentleman and the expectations for Jem versus Scout, and reading the text through that lens (including, you guessed it, a graphic organizer!), I presented students with an editorial from the January 2017 issue of National Geographic, which focused on gender roles and shifting expectations in our culture and those around the world. I annotated it (surprise surprise!), and the students used specific non-fiction reading strategies they’d learned earlier in the year to approach the text. I also explicitly asked them to read to find connections to TKAM; the annotations and a tie-in quote provided additional guidance. Then, I had them select a quote from the article that connected to TKAM, and a quote from the book that supported their article quote, and then compose a short “why” statement. Depending on the class, students then shared their quotes and “why” in a full-class conversation or adapted save the last word. After each quote was shared, each student had to respond (thoughtfully!) to at least one other person – and each student had a peer coach tracking their statement and response.

I collected the written preparation, as well as some comments they had about what surprised them or what they wished they knew more about or what stick with them. I’ve been pretty blown away by their quote selection, connections drawn, and the general thoughtfulness of their responses. There is a very small handful of kids (I can think of 3-5 out of 153) who chose not to write, but they are all students who have submitted almost no work all year – despite the fact that they will read anything and everything put in front of them. How to reach them remains a puzzle. They did, however, participate in the conversations and underline things on the article. Baby steps, I suppose, and I’m choosing to be excited that almost everyone was able to make connections between a classic work of literature and a recent non-fiction text. So cool to watch!!!! (And even better to reflect on afterward; in the midst it was hard to know if it was working!)

I debated for a while before selecting the article, because I wanted to be absolutely sure I had a VERY clear reason for involving it in the unit, and that it would not feel arbitrary or unrelated. The work students were able to do, and the thoughts they have shared, tell me that it was worthwhile. Whew!

On another note, I was humbled to be in the auditorium with the entire eighth grade earlier this week and realize that every single one of those humans was working their way through something I had designed. It’s been interesting to watch the other teacher implement it, mostly because she has been busy with her boards and leadership activities – including organizing testing – during the last few weeks and hasn’t been reading the lessons or book very far ahead, and sends some kids over to me with questions. It’s good for me to realize just how clear I need to be, how different the same lesson/unit can look in another classroom, and also to see the ways in which she adapts some of the routines to match her own style. WOW.

Now that it’s almost 6:30pm on Friday, I’m going to go input a few grades from this week and decide what to take home with me for the weekend – now planning for feedback meetings and student check-ins and parent emails!

Take care,

P. S. This week, the classroom is starting to feel more like mine – despite the fact that it’s still definitely someone else’s space into which I am fitting. There is also a long-term assignment formatting pattern that bugs me and doesn’t feel effective, but that’s something I’ve had to borrow to match expectations. Definitely something to consider for the future. I’m also going to spend some time this weekend creating a sample of the new projects I designed so that students know what they are supposed to look like…wish me luck in channeling my inner eighth-grade writing voice!


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