A Few Delayed Thoughts on Chains– A Response to My Mini-Lesson

Way back in the middle of the semester, I taught a mini-lesson on Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. I chose to teach this novel originally because I’ve read a few of her other works (Speak, Twisted, 3/4 of Catalyst), and Speak remains to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

So within my Chains mini-lesson, I presented this following question and an option for the Do Now/Warm Up:

“In what ways are Isabel and Madam Lockton similar? Use textual evidence to support your reasoning.”

The majority of my colleagues (students) made excellent connections that in some ways Madam Lockton is similar to Isabel because she has no power or authority with regard to her husband. She is also stubborn and strong-willed. One or two students even went on to say that perhaps the reader should sympathize with her and her situation.

While I try my best never to steer my students to an answer or the “right answer” (because right and wrong can certainly be subjective in English Literature) the point I was attempting to drive home was that Madam Lockton is a hypocrite of the worst order. She has experienced abuse and suffering at the hands of her husband, yet she treats Isabel in the exact same manner– if not worse in some instances.

So the question I walked away with is “How do I give my students room to breathe and express their opinions, while still objectively presenting the point I want to make?”




Challenging Perspectives


“Miss, miss…why do we have to study literature? What makes it literature, anyway?”

“Well, its writing that we have decided holds enough layers, meaning, subtlety and complexity that it is elevated to a higher designation: literature.”

“You mean like Push?”

“Well…do you think Push falls into all those categories? For example, tell me about the layers in Push.”

“The layer I liked was when Precious started to write poetry; when she could hardly read or write at the beginning.”

“Yeah…and how about the way she figured out how to get her breakfast, but left her book behind? And the other girl saw it?”

“And meaning?”

“Her teacher knew that writing in her journal would help her in alot of ways.”

“Ok…did you find Push subtle or complex?”

“Sure…the way Precious had to figure out how to talk to the principal, and the social worker, not giving anything away…and how she thought it was better to pee her pants than walk in front of her classmates and get dissed.”

“Well, do you think Push should be called literature?”

“Yeah, sure, why not? It had alot of different language in it, and alot happened to her; she showed courage, and we all wanted her to succeed by the end. I would call it literature. Hood literature.”

“Well, then, let’s put Push on our list of Personal Literature Favorites.”

An example X-ray

Lady Corongi

Interestingly, as I completed this X-ray, I found that it was untrue to the Lady Corongi of the final pages of the novel because by that time, all of her secrets had been exposed. This made me think that this exercise could be broken into two parts. X-rays could be drawn up partway through a reading of Seraphina, and later revisited in order to add notes and revise (or move) the hidden elements. No matter how you approach this type of exercise, it will definitely get one thinking about the evolution of a character, as well as that of the plot. The case of Lady Corongi was a particularly fun one to explore because its analysis highlights the plot’s most unexpected twist.

Posted by SD