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?”

 

-NC

 

Online Work, PB, Christmas Carol student play

05/07/2014

Name of Item:
Classroom Resources / Grades K-12 / Student Interactives / Calendar Activity /
December 25.

Brief description of item:
The well-known English author Charles Dickens wrote the classic, A Christmas Carol as a book for quick profit. But at this time during Victorian era of 19th Century England, there were no copyright laws. As a result many unauthorized copies of the book were sold without the author receiving a profit from the sales.
This is a calendar activity and should be performed during the month of December. The student interactive here or what we might simply term as the activity is to write a script version of this famous and beloved Christmas story by Charles Dickens and give a performance of the student version of A Christmas Carol. The dialogue should be on the level of middle school English proficiency, so the language and storyline should be kept simple. The original feeling of the original story by Dickens should be referenced as much as possible. Students with knowledge of computer technology and / or camera use can take and then download photographs of the performance of the play to then share with other students in the school.

Assessment of its use with Young Adult Literature and its connection to Common Core State Standards:
Many of the students in this 9th grade class will most likely be familiar with this well-known Christmas story by English author Charles Dickens. If they have not read the text by Dickens they very likely have seen the film version of this book that is aired each Christmas season on television. Here is an opportunity for the student to see and read from this simple story book by Dickens. The text is easy to read and any words that are unfamiliar to the student because of English origin or simply because they are beyond middle school level of language understanding can be noted and explained to the student. As a prospective teacher who has read this text many times, I would say it is within the Young Adult Literature range of appropriate selected literature for reading and interpretation.
In reference to Common Core State Standards for 9th grade English, this text and its use a tool to modify seems appropriate in that its structure and use of dialogue allows for the student to comprehend and reinterpret its meaning in terms of the students own life experience. This involves the teacher making a decision on the use of this literature in regards to qualitative and quantitative measures of text complexity as described in CCSS for English Language Arts. The level of structure and complexity of meaning of the text must seem a fit for middle school 9th grade learners. This classic story of a Christmas spirit of giving, sharing and expressing seasonal joy and love seems something most students will recognize as an important part of this annual calendar holiday. It involves the student in the very ideas expressed in the text.

Sample of a completed interactive:
A Christmas Bah Humbug!
Our Version of the classic Christmas Story by Charles Dickens.
Mr. Bah Humbug: What a waste of a day this Christmas! Each year I lose a day’s work and you Robert Poor get a “free-loading” day’s wages for no work!
Robert Poor: Christmas is just once a year. It means so much to the family.
Mr. Bah Humbug: Once a year is too often to have you pick my pockets Robert Poor!
Robert Poor: I will still wish you a jolly Christmas all the same, Mr. Bah Humbug.
Mr. Bah Humbug: Be off with you and don’t be late the next day! There will be no job waiting for you! Scrooge Christmas!

Later in the Christmas Story and on Christmas Eve.

Little Lenny: What a wonderful pudding mother! It looks the color of caramel. See how it steams in the bowl!
Mrs. Poor: There’s a turkey for us and a nice soup of potatoes and turnips as well.
Robert Poor enters the sparsely furnished room of the family Poor’s rooms.

Robert Poor: Hello my dear, a Merry Christmas! Little Lenny, where are your sisters and older brother Peter?
Mrs. Poor: They are still at their jobs and Mr. Peter has gone for our turkey.
Robert Poor: What a wonderful Christmas it will be!

Illustrated Book Report

“AN AMERICAN HOUSE” PUBLISHED IN 2006
An American House is set in a small Northeastern Iowa town during the 1930s. In his first novel, Paul Bland has written what appears to be a simple story on its surface, but the meaning runs deep. It is, in fact, about larger issues, an examination of the meaning of home, and too it reflects the social and political climate of the era leading up to World War II and the Holocaust. It is a beautifully written tale; abbreviated and metaphysical, spiritual, visually colorful and yet one-dimensional and shaded with grays as a photograph might be.

DINNER AT EIGHT MOVIE POSTER
This is the movie Robert Hudson goes to see at the movie house
after a day’s work in the Mahoney garden.

ROBERT HUDSON’S RADIO 1934
The dial lit up when the radio was on.

BETTY MAYLAND’S BOARDING HOUSE AS IT LOOKS TODAY

NORMAL SCHOOL CAMPANILE
This clock tower was in view from Robert and “String Bean’s” dormitory room.

PRESIDENT’S HOUSE NORMAL SCHOOL
Where Ann and Robert met at a poetry reading.
It was a Shakespeare sonnet that was being read when Ann entered the room.

RED BRICK BUILDING FOR ACADEMICS, THE NORMAL SCHOOL

THE NORMAL SCHOOL LIBRARY 1930S.
Robert liked to read and study here in the evenings.

Murals brought all the way from New York
decorate the walls of The Normal School Library.

THE CIRCLE ELM, THE NORMAL SCHOOL CAMPUS

THE TRAIN RAILROAD LINE ALONGSIDE
THE CEDAR RIVER, RED CEDAR IOWA

PRESIDENT’S HOUSE WALL GALLERY OF AMERICAN PAINTINGS

THE NORMAL SCHOOL LIBRARY EXTERIOR

RAPP’S GAS STATION, RED CEDAR IOWA
This is where Robert worked while the owner went on a vacation

ICE HOUSE, RED CEDAR IOWA
The Ice House was no longer used because refrigeration had been invented
and was used now in most homes.

ROBERT HUDSON’S HOUSE WHERE HE GREW UP

RED CEDAR IOWA TRAIN STATION AS IT LOOKS TODAY.
Robert Hudson worked here for a short time one summer in 1934.

THE MAHONEY ITALIANATE STYLE HOUSE
Attached to the house was a garden that Robert planted with Ann Mahoney’s help.

RED CEDAR IOWA CHURCH CAMPGROUNDS AND CABINS AS THEY ARE TODAY.
This is where Robert found temporary housing for himself at the start
of an Iowa winter.

MARSHALL FIELD AND COMPANY DEPARTMENT STORE IN CHICAGO ILLINOIS
This is where Ann spent a morning shopping.

VIEW OF CORN FIELDS OUTSIDE A TRAIN WINDOW AS ROBERT HUDSON
LEFT RED CEDAR IOWA FOR NEW YORK CITY

Mini Lesson “The Last Ram” Paul Bland

Graduate Course ENGLE 4600C
MINI-LESSON FOR ASSIGNED READING
Literary Selection: The Last Ram, by author Steve Linstrom
Student: Paul Bland
04/03/2014

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Purpose: A discussion of the larger meaning and symbolism represented by the storyline and characterization in this novel. A close reading of the novel will give us a better focus on what the storyline is saying to us and what the characters represent.

(1.) What does the storyline say about human nature and the value of life? Is the life of the last ram worth saving? Is it as important as a human life? What does it represent in terms of the badlands and its history? Is nature worth preserving?

(2.) Is there a comment here on violent action and peaceful solutions? We might ask: What is being questioned here, if anything?

(3.) Chose two characters from the novel. What do the characters represent in the novel? How does their actions and dialogue express what they represent on a larger scale of representation? In other words, do they represent evil or good, a past or a new generation of thought?

(4.) How are Indians portrayed in the novel? Are they seen as inferior? Do they possess a spiritual knowledge and sensibility that the “white man” does not?

(5.) In the story the characters of David and Evan are growing up and changing from young boys to young men. How does their relationship evolve in the story?

HOMEWORK
Chose one character in the novel and give a detailed, one page summary of the character and what their actions represent. How important is the character to the overall meaning of the story and what is the author trying to say to us as readers?

When You Reach Me: A Book of Questions?

Stead, 2009

Hi all:

I know you’ve all been here before: that moment of mental wandering when you try to imagine how you would summarize the book you just read, should you ever have the opportunity to do so. Sometimes this comes quite naturally. However, sometimes you get a book like Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and (at least for me!) it’s a bit more challenging.

As I was sitting here contemplating the conundrum of how I would go about describing it, it occurred to me that part of my problem in finding the angle that would best describe it is that I’m not entirely certain what genre the book fits into.

Yes, yes, I know. I can look up online what the publishing houses choose to categorize it as just as readily as the next person, but this gentle story of a young girl coming of age in New York City with a single mother really seems to tell too much of a story to fit squarely into any one category. It’s not purely a coming-of-age story, nor is it simply a story about the challenges families face. Marcus introduces time travel into the equation, leading towards a science fiction bent, as do the regular references to protagonist Miranda’s favorite book, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, but that’s not really what the story’s about, either. Despite friend triangles (Miranda-Annemarie-Julia and Miranda-Annemarie-Colin and even Miranda-Sal, to name a few), the book isn’t really just about friendships. The book addresses the issues of class (Annemarie’s doorman’d apartment building and Julia’s diamond ring v. Sal and Miranda’s tenement-style apartment building with hole-y furniture v. the laughing man’s “bed” under the mailbox), but doesn’t seem to dwell on them. It touches on racial concerns (Julia’s caramel/cafe au lait looks and Jimmy’s Indian background), but this is just one of many subpoints here. Are you starting to see where this is complex?

Perhaps the most constant question presented in the narrative is just that: questions. The book’s air of mystery is consistent, though it’s not really just mystery. Really, it’s questions. And the book itself does an intriguing job of breaking down it’s presented mysteries into bite-size question nuggets: who’s leaving notes, why Sal stopped being friends with Miranda, who stole Jimmy’s $2 bill jar, why did Marcus punch Sal in the stomach, why can’t Richard have an apartment key, Miranda’s mother’s preparation for and participation in the televised game show (which both require her superior ability to answer questions), and the many other unknowns throughout, all present an air of question to the story. These aren’t all necessarily mysteries, per se, but open question marks that Miranda–bit by bit–finds answers to or clues to help her better understand. I feel that the idea of clue-collecting in particular is especially essential to this story because–whether it’s a relationship, a weird event, a strange conversation, whatever–the constant seems to be missing pieces, which she eventually is able to put together. But that poses yet another question: can question answering be a genre? Personally, I think not.

As you read this book, what did you think? What theme(s) stood out the most to you? What genre would you place this in (assuming YA Lit isn’ t a proper genre, in and of itself)? Or do you have a different interpretation of the text?

–JMF

When You Reach Me Mini-Lesson: Comic Creator Activity

First off, thanks so much everyone for your awesome enthusiasm and participation during class last Thursday! You were great, and I appreciated the positive efforts that everyone put forth. I’m posting this handout regarding the lesson. I’m not posting the PPT here (I don’t think our instructions said to, but if I’m wrong please correct me!) but that was posted to the discussion site on Blackboard. I was also unable to get the table for the comic creator to post, but again, that has also been posted on the Blackboard discussion section.

Again, many thanks for your support, and I look forward to seeing you all on Thursday!

–JMF

Grade Level:Grade 7

A.  Common Core Standards:

  1. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.1

Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  1. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an object summary of the text.

  1. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.3

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  1. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.5

Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.

B.  Essential Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a plot and a theme? How does theme create a connection between the events/characters in any given story? More specifically, how does the author of When You Reach Me present theme in the course of the novel? How do specific scenes in a book demonstrate/support the idea of theme in a novel?

C.  Before Today’s Lesson:

1.  Students were approximately 3/4 of the way through the novel, When You Reach Me, and should have finished the book for today’s lesson.

2. Previous class discussions addressed issues of genre categorization, character change and development, setting analysis, and generally introduced the idea of theme in a novel.

3. Students were asked to identify and write 1-2 pages about the meaning/significance of a theme that they’d identified.

D.  Placement of the Activity Within the Unit:

Students will have finished the novel for this activity. Discussion on themes/support for proposed themes will have occurred throughout our discussion of the book.

 E.  Next Steps:

  1. After students have presented their thematic comics to the class, we will have a group discussion on these themes and loose debate regarding their respective viability. Students will be asked to support their arguments in class with particular sections from the novel (page numbers not necessary).
  1. For homework, students will be asked to write an argumentative essay at home supporting the theme they selected to present in their comic. They will utilize the novel to support the argument of why what they selected is a theme.

 F. Activity:

Designed for a 45 minute class.

  1. AIM:Identifying themes in a novel
  2. Students will enter into a brief review over topics covered in the previous class session. Specifically, we will review: (10 minutes)

a. How does this story end?

b. What is a plot?

c. What is the plot of the  book?

d. What is a theme?

e. How are plot and theme different?

f. Volunteers: Who’s willing to share with the class the theme they identified for their homework?

(List on board)

3. Show PPT list of themes; briefly discuss overlap/missing themes from blackboard list.

       4. Students will be asked to split into groups of 3-4. Student groups will pick a theme and create a 6-square comic               strip depicting a scene from the book, using both pictures and dialogue, that is illustrative of this theme. Each                 group will be given a comic-creating sheet and coloring utensils to use for the project. (20 minutes)

      5. Students will then present their comics to the group and briefly explain the connection between the scene they              chose and the theme they were presenting. Limited discussion/questions will be permitted during                                        presentations. (2o minutes)

6. Student work will be posted both on the class’s blog site as well as around the classroom

G.  Assessment:

The comic strips will be assessed as developmental, low-stakes class work. Comics should include:

1.  A clearly identified theme.

2. A scene from the novel related to that theme.

3.  Both dialogue and pictures/sketches of this scene.

4. An explanation of the scene’s relationship to the theme, whether written or presented orally during class presentation time.

H.  Required Materials:

  1. Novel
  2. Powerpoint presentation
  3. Chalk, chalkboards
  4. Comic Creator Worksheets
  5. Coloring/drawing materials

–JMF