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.