Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Novel Study

Below is a post that I began last night around midnight, which is usually when inspiration strikes. Who needs sleep, right? I'm posting it because it may prove useful to make public parts what I go through when planning, which is basically to cast about blindly until I stumble upon something useful. (Note the sensory imagery in that last sentence that alludes to the idea that the perfect or 'right' lesson is already out there, and all I need to do is find it). Sorry- I've been thinking about metaphors all day today.

Anyway, this year with my classes I'm dealing with a number of new challenges that precede this particular challenge- the novel study:

  • New school and the general befuddlement that arises from that.
  • Full year 55 minutes classes- when you're coming from semestered 90 minutes blocks, gah what a change.
  • 215 students at a time. I teach English; I love reading, but not that much.
  • No wireless environment.
  • Students who *seriously* actually verbally ask for traditional teaching styles and then tune out and nod off like the pros they are, which of course is why they want it but my God that's so wrong
  • And my personal favourite, canonical books with no end in sight, but I will rail against the canon another time.

Anyway, these factors, coupled with my general lack of perceived success with novel studies has led me to try this option: independent lit circle type group work things. I'm still working on the name- especially trying to distance myself from the 'lit circle' concept. But after the Jane Eyre debacle of 2010, I refuse to 'do' the novel the traditional way. I refuse!

What do I mean by traditional way? I mean handing kids a novel, every class they answer chapter questions, every few classes there's a closed book quiz, at the end there's an essay, then a final, then we close the book and never speak of Jane Eyre again. Until the movie comes out in March, of course. Then we add that movie to the end of the unit.

Maybe I'm exaggerating. Yes, I'm leaving out all the brilliant discussion and things I have to say about the novel to the students and interesting observations they will make and questions they will ask. But really, when I plan my unit the first way, instead of planning the brilliant discussion, I'm creating the foundation, or the purpose of my novel study. The purpose is to answer chapter questions. The purpose is to read chapter 7, because it comes after chapter 6.

I figured that out about a year ago- the second I start turning pages because I have nothing else to do, that's when it's over.

So, lit circles.. maybe lit ovals.. we will try. I'll probably still create a schedule for reading, because I know a few of my grade 12s will appreciate and follow it. And I think I'll assign important quotations and passages. Grading? I don't know.. maybe a question based grade?

As in: read this page out loud, discuss its significance, ask 5 random people 5 questions based on your passage... ? Work in progress.

I know its counterproductive to consider the novel a 'problem' that I need to solve. And I love novels. When I have the time, I read all the time (read: never) (ok, more like read: 2 months of the year). 

I guess we'll see. 


Damn you, late night inspiration!

So, before I forget, and/or fall asleep mid-sentence: a brainwave regarding my upcoming novel studies in 10 and 30.

Starting with 10, what about doing lit circles, alternating every day with reading. As in, reading on day 1, activity on day 2. Or, reading/research on day 1s and activities on day 2. I know what I mean!

1- reading
2 - draw the island
3 - reading/research
4 - characters, etc.

This would go on for a total of probably 25 classes... so, 12 total activities. And I could alternate this with the To Kill a Mockingbird kids, if there are any. Same format, but alternating days. So day 1 we could talk about the N-word(!) and then the next day they would read about it.


Good thing no one's reading this blog but me.

Now, what about the grade 12s? I think that whether they do the Wars or Gatsby... I think I should let them choose but just prepare similar activities for both. The only problem with the Great Gatsby is that it reads like a fable... and C. did it last year with her 11s. Humph.

So, 1 month or let's say more like 20 classes. 10 classes reading, 10 classes different things. A poem. 2 poems. Symbols. Characters. Image. Sex, for both, really. Money for Gatsby. I could let them play that jazz age game, if it's still up. Sweet, it
totally is.

Questions? I could ask C, maybe, if she has any.

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