I have set aside an area on one of my classroom walls to post definitions of rhetorical terms. I begin this lesson by pointing to the definition of Tone: expresses the attitude of the author towards the subject and the reader. My students usually come to me with little experience with rhetorical terms and this particular group is no different. I tell students that it is easy to perceive tone when we hear the author's actual words. To exemplify, I holds my hands to my chest as I say, "I love reading" in a clearly earnest and excited tone of voice. I ask students to describe my tone. I expect skepticism and give them room to question my honesty. I invite them to pay attention to my body language and tone of voice to make a determination. They end up suggesting adjectives like passionate and joyful. I then make the same statement, but almost roll my eyes, and almost scoff as I pronounce each word. They get it and accurately suggest that my tone is sarcastic. I tell them that to perceive tone is much harder in written texts because we don't actually hear the author's voice. Instead, in written texts, we must pay attention to the specific words and short phrases an author uses. I ask students to come up with specific words an author may use in writing to communicate negative feelings towards reading. My students accurately came up with, "Reading is a drag." I asked them to do the same to communicate positive feelings and they came up with, "Reading is my passion."
I distribute a list of useful Language For Analysis, Tone, and Transitions that includes adjectives students can use when describing tone. The list is long so I give students some time to look over the list. I direct students back to the text, "Stereotyping," and ask them to engage in a study of the author's tone. For this they have to accurately identify the topic. We work together to quickly verbalize stereotypes as the topic of the text. We also work together to identify one word or short phrase in the introductory paragraph that suggests tone. Specifically, I ask students to reread that paragraph and suggest a word or short phrase. They suggest the short phrase, "treated differently" or the short sentence, "My name disappeared." These are good suggestions because they clearly suggest a negative tone. I tell students to use the leftover space on the back of the text to list all the words and phrases that reveal the author's tone and then to write one sentence that describes the author's tone. I give students time to do this and do let them know that they will use this to hold a discussion.
To organize this class discussion, I use the same process as in a previous lesson. The process is explained in detail in this document titled "One Method of Holding Academic Discussions." Half of the class volunteers to be first to sit in a circle and initiate their own discussion. The other half of the class will sit in an outer circle watching the discussion and listening attentively until it is time to swap. I tell students that the purpose of this discussion is to discuss the author's tone, meaning his attitude towards the topic of stereotyping. I also tell students to use the discussion to deepen their understanding of the text and to help each other make connections to the concept of Identity. I give each group 10 minutes to discuss. There are two different perspectives on whether the tone of this essay is positive or negative and I want students to verbalize the reasoning on both sides and to respond to each other's conclusions. Ideally, one side would explain that they believe the awards and achievements suggest the author did not have a problem with being stereotyped. Similarly, the other side would point to details such as "My name disappeared" to argue that this was not a positive experience for him. I would then hope that they challenge each other's conclusions and in this manner experience an important part of the Speaking and Listening standards of the Common Core.
As students discuss, I keep record of student responses during this class discussion. At this point, my students have experienced this and they know that they will get to see what I recorded once both groups get an opportunity to participate in the discussion.
When each group gets a chance to discuss, I show them what I recorded and discuss highlights and areas that need improvement.
I was disappointed with the results of the discussion. As you can see in the tracking document I share in this section, the discussion was dominated by a few. I have engaged students in this same discussion with the same text in the past and have seen much more engagement. Specifically, students feel strongly about the danger/non danger posed by stereotypes and they are able to challenge each other's views. One explanation for the lack of participation from many is that they struggled to formulate the author's central ideas in the previous lesson's assignment and thus did not have enough confidence to comment on this author's argument. I will have to be more thoughtful about they way I help students prepare for a discussion.
I communicate to students that we are done with this text for the moment and that in the next lesson, they will be introduced to the second text of this unit.