The challenge this week gives you two ends of a triangle: you’ve got a class: a 9th grade BR college prep class—not so old that middle school is a distant memory, not so smart that they will be so over it, not so young that we have to pretend nobody has sex or does drugs); you’ve got your media—any and all of the recordings accessible via the syllabus. How might you use this media and what texts would you pair with them—that’s the last leg of the magic triangle?
Scroll all the way down for a description of the class you are designing this assignment for.
You’ve got a real opportunity to be pretty creative here. You are welcome to talk about any of the texts we’ve covered so far or will cover in class. Or you can go with something else you’d want to teach. Or you can go with a canonical text that might well be included in the framework. Or you can do a little of all three. Additionally, if there is other supplemental media—movies, TV, radio, news items, non-fiction, art-work, dance, whatever—you are welcome to use that.
Why do this? One way we decolonize the classroom is to bring in "texts" that aren't print. Print text dominates the classroom and is seen, culturally, as more important. And yet texts that are not print dominate our lives and the lives of our students. Here is something to think about as you move from being a student to a teacher: you are all English majors. You love literature. Some of you love the pretty heavy stuff--Joyce, Shakespeare, Morrison. Most of you love to read--I mean really love it (I am that person; I read two novels last week that were not Gossip Girl). You will have classrooms filled with students who don't like to read and who don't do it well or often. And, also, you will have students who will go on to college or trade school and they will take, at most, one literature class: one. So the question to ask yourself as a future teacher is what is your actual job as a language arts teacher?
The frameworks stresses learning literary terms and concepts and exposure to literature, capital "L." All that is good. It's important and vital for students to have rich experiences with literature. But don't forget that the most important thing we teach our students is how to read and how to write. Anything. Not write only five paragraph essays. Not read only Shakespeare. I think it can be rough to think about. You've spent your entire college career studying literature, and now I'm telling you that teaching literature is not really the job. The job is literacy instruction. How to make students be good readers of all texts. And so a class that encourages students to apply the critical interpretive skills they would use reading Poe or Faulkner or Joyce is and should be what students do with any text, including the various media they will encounter in life much longer than they'll be in school and with much greater consequence if they do it badly.
THIS WEEK'S CLASS: You are teaching a 9th grade College Prep English class at Bridgewater/Raynham high school. You are working with a class of 35 students: 34 students are white, 1 student is Cape Verdean, 19 are female, 16 are male, one male student is openly gay.
The BR pass rate on the 10th grade MCAS is 84%.
Roughly 85% of the students in your class come from a household where at least one parent has some college education. You have two students in your class whose parents are on the faculty at Bridgewater State University.
You have limited access to technology in the classroom, but your students have access to computers, phones and the internet at home.
You can familiarize yourself with the school here.
As my contribution to the discussion: I have actually paired “Is your Dad Single?” with the stories we read during the first week of class, Girl & 7th grade, with actual rising 8th and 9th graders. I asked students to map out the story of “Is Your Dad Single?”—so what starts the story, what is the rising action, what is the climactic moment, the denouement, the “truth about life.” I ask them to do this graphically. It's a way to practice the kinds of analysis skills that they need for their entire high school and college career. But, since that piece is really about deciding on who you want to be in your own life, we look at Girl and 7th grade through that same lens—how do the various characters in each figure out who they are? (so now we are learning character analysis--another literary framework-y skill). That’s a final writing--they write a pretty traditional essay that they need to know how to do for things like MCAS and, well, lots of other school occasions. We draft, have a workshop, revise--you know that drill. Along the way, I embed a lot of low-stakes writing: I have them write about their own stories of figuring themselves out, of 7th grade, etc. I also ask them to identify the “rules” of being a boy—so write 7th Grade as a series of “you” statements, but about boys, based on the story. And I ask them to write a responsee to the mother-figure in Girl here they are responding to the rules as the girl being told how to behave. All this work requires listening, reading, note-taking. It requires working alone and in groups. It requires that they be able to prove a point about a text using the text as evidence. It gives them space to reflect personally. I really enjoy the entire sequence. We end with a very fun exercise where they make their own maps of their lives using giant post-its and these emoji pictures I picked up on amazon—who they are now, where they want to end up, how they are going to get there. They present that to the whole class. I do it with them. They marvel at the idea that a 50 year old could still possibly have a life plan.
When Louise May Alcott published Little Women in 1868, it was after years of publishing and trying to publish material for adults. But in order to support her family, Alcott agreed to her publisher's request that she write a novel for young readers--something she was not entirely interested in doing. But Alcott was a pragmatist and her father, Bronson Alcott, failed transcendentalist, brought in exactly zero money to the household. So, again, at the urging of her publisher, Little Women, which was originally published with that title as Part I, and Part II (originally published as Good Wives) came to be.
A little more history: Since then, Little Women, while largely positioned as children's literature before Young Adult was a thing, has never been out of print. Further, it has been the subject of numerous film adaptations (notably the 1949 version with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, 1994 with Winona Ryder as Jo, and 2019's Greta Gerwig's celebrated--and significantly altered--version with Saoirse Ronan as Jo). The Canadian Opera staged a Little Women opera. And there have been numerous retellings of the novel: The Spring Girls: A Modern-Day Retelling of Little Women by Anna Todd, Littler Women: A Modern Retelling by Laura Schaefer, The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly, The Little Women: A Novel by Katharine Weber, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, a graphic novel version of the story, by Rey Terciero and illustrated by Bre Indigo, and, most recently, Meg and Jo by Virgina Kantra, which will be followed by its sequel, Amy and Beth (Perry and Kantra).
In other words, as a coming-of-age novel, it has had a significant and lasting effect on young readers, primarily young women, for a century and a half.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My own experience as a young reader was greatly shaped by reading Little Women. I did not come from a family of readers, though my mother became one. I had an Aunt who would, in the summer months, take me and my sister to a local library to escape brutal summer heat. And, as is probably a story not unfamiliar to you, I found solace and comfort of another sort in books. I raced through all the Little House books and through all the books about horses, queens, and First Ladies available to me. And then my cousin Susan, who was many years my senior, seemed to notice that I was a reader, and, in a tremendous show of support in a family that did not entirely trust or value books, Sue bought me my copy of Little Women.
Here is a photo of the cover of my copy that I read, every summer, like a pilgrimage, from roughly the time I was 9 years old until I went away to college--and even every once in a while after. You can also see here the book plate with my ridiculous hand-writing and, finally, the inscription from my cousin--I look at her writing and she seemed as young as me, though she was my older, glamorous cousin who had a job and a car and an apartment.
The March girls became touchstones to me, marking different parts of my personality at different points in my life. And, as a text, it challenged me as a reader when I was young and led me to other texts as I grew older--The Brontes, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton. And then on to Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison. And on and on. My cousin Sue died this past year of an aggressive cancer, and I tell you that to commemorate this person who was so important to the person I've become now. For me, it's the books and the people that gave them to me that make me the person you know in class each week.
NOTE: I owe a debt of gratitude to my former honor's thesis student and former 344 student Jess Rinker who wrote her own revisioning of the novel this past summer and whose research on the retellings I rely on here.
WHAT TO POST THIS WEEK: In your Book Club Journals, I've asked you to talk about the text as "young," "adult" and "literature" and to consider the characteristics of YA fiction that we touched on in class (I've posted more about this in each groups book club google.doc). And I've discussed at length the longevity of the story of Little Women and that is for good reason: in so many ways, it is a novel that I a predecessor of a great many of the kinds of stories that populate the YA lexicon. This week I'm challenging the idea of the timeless of the novel. Instead of a teaching discussion post this week, I'm challenging you to re-imagine Little Women for a 21st Century YA reader.
If you were going to update Little Women, how might you do it? In 300 words, provide a synopsis of your 2020 version of the classic Little Women. RESPOND in roughly 100-200 words to at least one of your colleagues by either building on their update idea and/or suggesting why you think, as a reader or a teacher, this would work as an update (or wouldn’t).
USE THIS SPACE TO POST QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS. His folks, a few things, first, in class this evening (9 February 2021) folks noted that they didn't know where to post questions about the syllabus as indicated I was asking for in the syllabus check in assignment. That's on me. I forgot to post this very discussion board in time. I will move any questions that got posted elsewhere to this space, along with answers.
Further, this is a permanent Q&A discussion board. So if you have a question about class, please feel free to post here. I check the discussion board during office hours, which I have everyday except Monday. I will answer any questions I can here.
Of course, if you have a concern that is of a personal nature, feel free to email me directly or come to an open student office hour. However, it's true that a lot of times students have the same question. I will admit to you that I get annoyed at having to answer that same question 25 times. So please use this discussion board for questions that are of a general class nature--if you have that question other people have it too.
For complete details on what to do in this space and how you will be evaluated, please see the complete details for this assignment located on Teaching Discussion page for our class (link is live).
In Brief: Post your initial response, about 300 words. Post a response to your colleagues, 100-200 words. No worries about respondents this week. I will serve as respondent and model what I'm looking for.
THIS WEEK’S SCENARIO: The two short stories included in this weeks reading come from a list of short-stories for middle-schoolers. I have used these two stories with rising 8th and 9th graders.
You are teaching a class of 30 8th graders at Whitman Middle School. Here is a class picture. The class you are teaching is majority white. There are two students who identify as African-American. Just over ½ of the class are young women. None of the students are first generation American, but a few students have grandparents who immigrated, mostly from Ireland. More likely, the majority of students have great-grandparents or great-great grandparents that came from to the US during the great migration in the late 1800s—Italy and Ireland mainly. Your classroom is well-equipped. Students have ipads for use in the classroom and all of the students have internet access at home as well as at school. You maintain a teaching website where parents can check assignments. The parents at Whitman are, more or less, invested in their children’s education and pay attention to what is going on in the classroom. You have 7 students on IEPs ranging from high-functioning spectrum to ADHD mix. Two student are on IEP for cognitive processing problems.
For our first post: It's useful to begin by thinking about the genre as a genre. YA can overlap with a lot of other genre, but it is also it's own thing. Thinking about YA as a genre will help to shape our conversation for the rest of the semester.
To complete this post: First, read the article that your group was assigned. Once you've read your article, have a short discussion about it in your groups. Remember the prompt:
Based on your article, what makes Young Adult Lit a genre unto itself? What are the notable characteristics of the genre? Another way to put it is what makes YA Lit "young," "adult," and "literature" all at the same time?
Once you've had that discussion, post below about what you talked about in your group. You are welcome to add things that you think didn't get talked about in your group but need to be said.
Finally, once everyone has posted, I'll ask you to read what your colleagues had to say and to respond to some of them. Do you see connections across the articles? Do you see points in other people's articles that challenge what you read in your own? Does something that someone wrote help you to understand the genre a little bit better?
HOW TO POST
Click on the "comment" button located at either the top right or bottom left of this post. Fill in the form as required and post your 100-200 words in the dialogue box. You might want to compose in another program so nothing gets lost. Once you've finished, click submit.
NOTE: Occasionally, weekly asks you to identify a series of images in order to submit your post. Sometimes a glitch makes it impossible to see the "submit" button. If this happens, let me know. You can email me your post and I will post it on your behalf. When this happens, I contact weekly and they typically fix the problem.