In the previous lesson, I engaged students in a discussion about the text with a specific purpose, which was to get students to help each other clarify confusion with the pages of Ceremony they read independently. It turned out to be quite helpful for students so I want to give them the same experience today. However, I want to structure it more and add a reflection piece in order to help students solidify what they learn today.
Students read up to the top of page 17 for homework and worked on the setting/plot/character chart, which they have been working on for a few days now. I begin by verbalizing what I suspect is on students’ minds, that the pages they read for homework contain details that may be very confusing. Many nod in agreement. I am specifically referring to the description of Tayo in the mental hospital feeling that “[f]or a long time he had been white smoke.” I assure students that their questions will be answered by the end of the period, specifically through the small group discussion followed by whole class discussion process we engaged in the day before. I tell them that I am adding a written component that will guide their discussions and their thinking.
I ask students to identify a particularly difficult section of those pages and to ask questions about it. I instruct them to use the back of their chart to write two or three questions about the section they found confusing. For support, I suggest a sentence starter:
I then ask them to brainstorm possible answers to their question, even if they are totally unsure of their answer. I assure them that attempting to formulate any kind of answer is a good thinking exercise. I also suggest a sentence starter for them:
I tell students that the first type of question is pushing them to identify the particularly confusing information. The second one pushes them to search for answers. This is a process that effective readers automatically engage in as they read. I want to make it explicit for my students because it helps struggling as well as more advanced readers. I have many students who never engage in such process and this introduces them to it. I also have those who engage in this process but are not necessarily aware of it and this activity helps them become aware of it, which is good metacognitive development. I give students about 5 minutes to complete this part. Here is a student sample of questions, possible answers and reflection, which was completed by the end of the small group discussion.
I ask students turn to their team members and discuss their question and possible answers. I make it clear that they are to help each other clarify confusion. I walk around and listen in on conversations. Indeed, many had questions about the meaning of the entire description of Tayo in the mental hospital. I let students speak with each other without intervening. They will get a chance to ask me for clarification soon enough. This is a good opportunity for them to practice grappling with this text in collaboration like these students helping each other clarify the story. I give them about 10 minutes to discuss.
After students have discussed, I ask them to write a short paragraph in which they explicitly state what their group members helped them clarify. To make the task clear, I say, "Your writing will literally sound like this, 'I was confused about ____ and now I understand that _______." I also tell them to take this as an opportunity to give their classmates credit by saying something like, "Bryan/Samantha/Dayana helped me understand that..."
There may be students who state they are not confused about anything. I tell these students to write that statement on the paper instead of writing questions and that they would be the expert in their group. After the discussion, I ask these particular students to write about the specific things they helped the group members understand.
The structure I gave them was effective in guiding small group discussions and their thinking. The student sample included in the Intro part of this lesson is representative of what came out of this part of the lesson. This student was able to identify the specific part of the narrative she found confusing. It had to do with figurative language, Tayo saying he is invisible and it had to do with the variety of settings intertwined in the narrative. The post-discussion, written reflection reveals a certain level of clarification. This student is still not perfectly clear on what is going on in the narrative but there is a real attempt at keeping the settings and events in order. Whereas at first, the student was very confused about how Tayo ended up in LA, she no longer is at the end of the small group discussion.
I then give students the opportunity to ask questions that their group was not able to fully answer. By this time, students were quite successful at helping each other make sense of the story so this discussion turns out to be quite short. They are mainly interested in verifying their conclusions so they share what they discussed and ask me if they are on the right track. I confirm or add to their conclusions.
I assign the next five pages of Ceremony for homework and give them the last few minutes of class to get started on it. I remind them to continue annotating the text as they read and to continue adding to the setting/plot/character chart.