In an attempt to prove that I have not fallen off the face of the earth -- and that I truly do take blogging seriously -- I thought I might post about the books that I am currently reading with my students.
In British Literature we have just finished the study of Beowulf (in fact the students will take the test on Monday, which means I will have 35 tests to grade on Tuesday). Students learned that characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon time period included the Heroic Ideal (bravery, loyalty and generosity) - Comitatus (the loyalty of subjects to their king AS WELL AS the loyalty of the king to his subjects) - Wergild, which literally means "man-price" (they truly believed in an eye for an eye .....except towards the end of this era they learned that revenge does not promote peace, but only promotes more revenge) - Wyrd (sounds like "weird") which means fate. Interestingly, monks were the scribes for this ancient tale and they included many references to the Almighty God, which provided an interesting paradox to the accepted belief of "wyrd". Students enjoyed discussing this aspect of the novel, as well as the three separate battles: The battle of Beowulf vs Grendel (the descendant of Cain); Beowulf vs Grendel's mom (she only attacked out of the accepted custom of "wergild"); and Beowulf vs the Dragon - which ultimately led to our hero's death, but ensured his legacy for generations to come.
In my 9th grade English class we have just started Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I found it interesting that we began this novel during Banned Books Week. I always introduce this novel by setting up the time periods: both when the novel was written (1960 ---4 years prior to the Civil Rights movement) and where the novel takes place (small town Alabama in the 1930s). Unfortunately, these 9th grade students have not studied US history in much detail (that comes in their junior year), but I am able to set the stage fairly well: the United States is in a constant state of racial tension. We discuss WHY the author chose to tell the story from a young child's point of view - and as flashback rather then present day. We also discuss the 1776 Declaration of Independence that claims that "all men are created equal" and then we discuss the case of Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896 which upheld the Jim Crow laws that "separate but equal" is constitutional. I explain the "true" conditions of separate but equal and students if they think this is fair. I try to instill that the highest court in our nation did not dispense justice at this time --- in the hopes of setting them up to understand the injustice that occurs in the courtroom in this story.
At the beginning of the year these students were asked to brainstorm "prejudice" as a part of the Ideas trait of writing. In that exercise they were able to brainstorm many, many different aspects of prejudice. This will serve them well when we discuss one of the major themes in the book: "Prejudice" vs "Tolerance" In Macomb County, Alabama prejudice exists in MANY areas, not just with regards to skin color. We will also track the themes of "Courage" vs "Cowardice" --- "Justice" vs "Injustice" ---- and "What it means to be a girl/woman". The students realize that this book is a Bildungroman -- that is, a coming of age story -- and in the protagonist's life, that includes learning what it means to be a Southern woman in the 1930s. Since Scout's mother died when she was only 2 years old, there are many other female figures in her life (and male figures for that matter) who help shape the woman she is to become.
In my 8th grade class we are beginning to study William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In previous weeks I have read a short comic book version of the play to them, and they have seen the 25 minute animated production of the play. Last week we began Act I scene i and dissected each and every line: what does it mean --- what is the character feeling -- why does he/she feel that way --- how might they say their lines given that emotion --- how might they react to one another on stage --- how might they be standing on stage --- etc. This past Friday I divided the students into 3 groups (6 students per group) and instructed them to block and practice this first scene. While they started off rather stiff and uncertain, in the end all three groups had done a wonderful job of interpreting the scene. AND...they had fun!!! They left the classroom laughing and talking about next week's blocking. I was more than thrilled!
In my 7th grade class we have just started Natalie Babbitt's modern-day classic, Tuck Everlasting. This comes on the heels of studying the elements of a fairy tale - and fractured fairy tales (on a separate note, students will be writing their own fractured fairy tales while we read Tuck Everlasting). The ultimate question that students will answer at the end of the novel will be, "Is Tuck Everlasting a modern day fairy tale" I am trying to teach these students to read closely - so they are learning to concentrate on the actual words that the author uses to tell the story as well as how the author chooses to develop the characters. Babbitt uses many similes and metaphors when she tells this story, and students will learn to not only recognize these types of figurative speech, but they will also try to discern WHY the author chose that particular comparison. It is always interesting to see how the students grow and mature in their analysis skills when we read this book: they begin looking at me with totally blank stares and most of them end the novel study with a keen understanding of writing style.
While I have read each of these literary works a minimum of 5 times, I always try to re-read the selection before each class. This usually only requires skimming, but never-the-less skimming of four different works does take time --- and this results in time taken away from blogging and outside reading.