Students will arrive to this hour with their "Top 2" thesis statement options, which have been developed from their Interest Inventory via student-generated questions, revised using outside materials and applications, reviewed by peers by using student-created Google Forms, and evaluated for peer interest using the same forms. I want to encourage students to use this information from their peers, but I also want to stress that a personal passion for a topic paired with a relevance to audience is essential for a successful research paper, so I will go over how to make use of the survey results collected to help select student topics. See the video below for how all the forms and results fit together to make this a student-led, teacher-monitored project with no paperwork to lose! I will also stress the importance of choosing unique topics (I'll link my "Choosing a Genuinely Interesting Research Paper Topic & Thesis" presentation as a reminder for students!) so that students will not have to change topics (which I require if a topic is chosen by multiple students). There can be an endless amount of papers written about general topics, but NO two papers should argue the same thing (and, more importantly, no topic should be so general that it would wipe out innumerable other topics!). For example, many students will want to write about technology (especially since we moved to 1:1 devices this year). General statements like "Teens today should limit their screen time" are unacceptable, because there are so many specific facets of that topic that would be more interesting and fruitful! I will write this example on the board to help students see that a broad topic needs to be narrowed and then solicit ideas on subtopics of this topic that would be more appropriate for this research assignment. Some of those subtopics will likely be:
Once we review this material, students can feel free to start submitting their "FINAL" Research Paper Topic Proposals to my Google Form (screencapped below). I will give students until tonight at midnight to choose a topic so that I can go through and make sure there are no duplicates. If topics are duplicated, I will inform both/all students and let them change their topics or randomly select who gets to keep the topic (and the rest MUST change their topic and resubmit a thesis statement). I color-code the thesis submissions green (for good to go!), yellow (good with some minor problems addressed via email & resubmitted), and red (major problems addressed via email & resubmitted). Until all students get "green" submissions, this process is a rolling one.
Next, we will switch gears to our literature portion of today to review students' Chapter 1 Reading tasks for Of Mice & Men. I will begin by asking students if they have any questions or observations about the text first, which is something I always do with my students to encourage them to become their own guides for the discussion. The Common Core asks students to do more than just to respond to questions in discussions. They need to be able to generate their own questions and be the architects of their own discussions, so I want to continue to shift the facilitation of discussions to them whenever possible. At this point in the year, my students are already very comfortable with this format, so I anticipate that they will bring up many of the "must talk about" questions that I would ask below. I will let them lead their discussion and ensure that their peers are all participating and answering questions to increase their understanding of the text, and if I notice they have not covered all the ideas on my list below, I will insert my questions in lulls in conversation until they are all answered. The issues I want to be sure are covered are:
After our discussion of the chapter, we will move on to continue tracking these things, especially the use of setting as a tone/mood indicator and characterization stemming from dialogue, actions, and narrator's use of adverbs to describe how characters speak.
To help students better hear the dialogue in the novel, we will spend the remainder of the hour reading the novel aloud. To do this in an engaging, effective way, I will combine my typical "popcorn reading" with a more play-like reading. Basically, I will identify the characters in Chapter 2, then list them on the board. I will give about a 30-second "pitch" for each character to give students an idea of what they will be reading, then I will allow students to volunteer to read those parts for our reading today. I find that when students have a specific character they read, they pay attention more closely to that character throughout the book and are more passionate about understanding and advocating for their character in class discussions. The characters that we see in Chapter 2 (and the main parts of my 30-second pitch to get students interested) will be:
After these parts are selected, the rest of the students will serve as "narrators," using the same popcorn reading rules of "at least a sentence, no more than a page," and then calling on someone else to read. They will NOT be able to call on anyone identified on the board who already has a "character" part. Narrators will read EVERYTHING that's not dialogue (so even the "he said" pieces that interrupt dialogue), because we've already identified that it's extremely important to pay attention to these "stage directions." I'd like characters to read their parts with vigor and in character, but at first it might be flat. I will be encouraging throughout to improve this, and usually students get into their characters pretty quickly and the class enjoys it and participates. If students have questions or observations about the text, I will encourage them to put their hands up so we can stop and talk about it. Otherwise, we'll discuss this next time. I mainly want to get students involved in the book and model how helpful having distinct voices of characters is to reading. Also, when disputes over WHO is supposed to be reading their lines occur, I can help students work through finding context clues to figure it out. This will be vital to their own comprehension and reading homework.
Before reading officially begins, I will make one final comment about our reading time in class. The text contains multiple instances of swear words, which helps readers to understand more about the roughness of characters and the times. This language doesn't really offend me, but I understand that readers may not want to read these words aloud. That is their choice, and I want to emphasize that no one has to read these words if they don't want to. They can feel free to skip or alter the words to things like "dang" if they would like to. The text also uses the word "nigger" in a few cases, which like the other swear words emphasizes characteristics of the speakers, but I have a personal issue hearing this word in my classroom. I will ask students to replace this word with "people" or "person," no matter their own personal feelings on the issue. I will share my own personal story on why I've always been vehemently opposed to racial epitaphs (which stems from my own experiences in a very rural, ethnocentric community where diversity nor tolerance was emphasized), and I will ask if there are any other comments about the issue or classroom protocol when dealing with racial slurs in my classroom. Typically there are not, but if there are other thoughts about it, we will discuss them openly. See the reflection in this section for more discussion on dealing with racial slurs in literature.
My district's novel choices are already preset by our curriculum director, and I absolutely adore the novels that we teach during Junior year: Of Mice & Men and The Great Gatsby. We also have the option of teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but this year we decided to take the recommendation of the PARCC Model Content Framework for Grade 11 (attached in the resources section) and only pursue two pieces of extended-length literature in order to better cover informational texts that were not previously focused on as much. Thankfully, my school is also very tied to the idea of teaching works of literature that are classics, despite them sometimes being controversial. (During Banned Books week, I like to boast to students that all of the novels we read this year have been banned at one point or another, which makes them SO much more interested!) These factors combine to allow me to teach stunning pieces of literature, some of my favorite in fact, in an environment that will allow me the autonomy to do so in the manner I see fit.
Because of my freedom to teach these novels how I want to teach them, I run into some difficult decisions as a professional. Of Mice & Men uses the word "nigger," which I cannot stand on a personal level, and it provides a challenge of how to handle it from a professional level. In all the years before this one, I crossed this bridge when we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where we discussed at length Twain's purpose for using this word 213 times. Talking about it in Twain's context first was almost easier for me as a teacher, because he so purposefully used it as satire. I find that approaching this word in Of Mice & Men is somewhat harder, as it is said so much less often and is more there to characterize the times and highlight how ostracized Crooks is at the most basic level. I appreciate that my school is not prescriptive, but it does mean that I am then required to figure out how to best approach this controversial literature. I spend a massive amount of time online looking at resources from all kinds of places, NCTE, PBS, and the Teaching Channel, just to name a few.
Before deciding on whether or not to allow this word to be used within the context of literature in my classroom, I considered the unique factors at my school, which I would recommend any teacher grappling with these issues to do. My school is predominantly white, and there are no teachers in our building or in our district that are minorities of any race. I actively encourage the appreciation of diversity in my classroom and in the school, and while "tolerance" is usually the message, I go further to push students to connect with one another and appreciate our similarities AND differences rather than to ignore our differences and push an agenda of "sameness." We are all beautiful, unique people that have different perspectives on issues, shaped largely by our backgrounds. One of my absolute favorite lessons that I started teaching at the beginning of last year focuses on Malcolm X's autobiography, which has a major impact on broadening horizons and understanding of other students. It still gets referenced in class discussions as a connection to other texts, so I know it has impacted many.
Because our population is so homogeneous, with only a few students of any race other than white, I decided that for my school and in my classroom, I do not want my students to use racial slurs, even in the context of literature. I felt that the use of this word would create discomfort for my students of all races and for myself. As I said in the main lesson, I have never been comfortable hearing "nigger," and I just couldn't see myself at a point where even just hearing it wouldn't make me actively flinch. I do let my students weigh in on the matter, and if ever there were compelling ideas as to why this word should be read aloud, I would certainly dive into the matter full-on. Until that happens, though, acknowledging why it's used here and what it means is a complete enough lesson for me.
How I chose to handle this issue may be different from how you will chose to handle the issue. There are many fantastic resources on the matter, including from Teaching Tolerance, which would be an excellent opportunity for community interaction and reflective thought about this issue. I would just advise you to check into your school's policy on the matter (as they may be more prescriptive than my school!), gather feedback from your colleagues and students, and proceed with when you feel best meets the needs of your students.
In the final minutes of class, we'll discuss what we've read so far today. I anticipate that we will be able to complete reading the text up to Slim's description and entrance. I will ask students to predict what they think may happen in the text using textual evidence from what we've covered in class, and I will also ask them to update their understanding of Lennie & George's relationship based on this chapter's interaction. Then, I will instruct them to read the remainder of Chapter 2 and all of Chapter 3, specifically looking for and noting the following features:
Students will not have to formally write down anything for this reading assignment, but I will encourage them to mark up their electronic texts, write their own notes, or create a two-columned chart with my questions and their text-based answers as they discover them. I learned since my lesson last time that the copy of the text in Actively Learn was missing a few lines, so this investigation of the text will be less dependent on questions inserted by me and more dependent on students' own independent critical reading skills in response to these base ideas.
We will have a quiz over this reading material next time, and students will generate and respond to discussion questions and answers. Additionally, I will be looking at the responses to their final thesis statement submissions to approve them, approve them pending revision, or require alternate thesis statements be submitted. I will want to have a concrete, unique thesis statement approved for each student by next class period. To communicate with students regarding their statements, I will email them. In order to simplify what could be an intensive process for me, however, they will always submit revisions to the same form so that I can have ONE consolidated document to display all students' statements.