I have much to learn.
On Thursday, I had to leave school early because I got a freakish visual migraine. It was pretty bad this time. I went almost completely blind, and the regular migraine and fever that followed is just clearing up. Mr. Hipteacher had to come and rescue me from school, and, after dealing with my blind, crying mess, my chair took over my last class of the day. While I am very depressed about having to miss yet another day of work, I am grateful to my chair for being so supportive and understanding.
He also taught me a thing or two about teaching.
When my vision came back, I checked my email to find a very detailed play-by-play of what went down in my classroom. He taught essentially the same lesson I was going to teach, which I had been teaching to my other sections for two days. I read "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes and then led them through the process of writing about quotes from the text. Our department has sort of standardized the method the students should use until they get the hang of making inferences.
It is a useful method for average readers and writers who need a bit of a formula to get started. As I do with most lessons like this, grammar and MLA in particular, I try to get in and get out as quickly as I can. I hate lecturing, so I try to involve the students as much as possible and write entertaining sentences for examples of the quotes, but I still find myself giving the information and expecting them to get it.
On the other hand, this is what my chair did:
- They read the Langston Hughes story on their own.
- We talked a bit about textual evidence and why it’s important. The term threw some of them off, but when they realized “textual evidence” means “quote used for evidence,” they understood. I asked them to name a movie they didn’t like in order to lead them through an argument. (They chose Twilight and the third Pirates of the Caribbean film.) I challenged them when they called Twilight “dumb” and asked them to be more specific. They started coming up with all sorts of reasons why it’s a “girls” movie, which eventually lead them to admit (sort of sheepishly) that they don’t like movies with that kind of plot, although another boy said he didn’t like it because of the unrealistic elements (aside from the vampirism—he thought the way Edward Cullen scuttled up the trees looked monkey-like and ridiculous). For the Pirates of the Caribbean film, they were much clearer on why they didn’t like it: they thought it went on and on, especially fight scenes that seemed to last an entire hour, so that what was initially exciting became boring.
- I pointed out that they had made a statement about which people could reasonably disagree and that they had provided clear evidence to support their point...which is what we ask them to do with literature.
- I put the first sentence of the story on the board, then tried to write a topic sentence (which, admittedly, is sort of backwards). So I decided to start out by showing how students often use quotes incorrectly: they tend to drop quotes into the middle of paragraphs, without any sort of lead-in or explanation, or they use quotes that don’t really back up their point at all. I took the first sentence of the story, then wrote a sentence in front of the quote, like this: The woman in the story may possibly have health problems. “She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but a hammer and nails.”
- They immediately pointed out that I hadn’t cited the quote properly, so I did that. Then they said the quote didn’t make any sense with the previous statement, and in any event the quote needed a lead-in. (They know the term, either from their summer reading or from you.)
- Someone said the quote was an example of hyperbole, so I created a lead-in sentence about hyperbole, without physically connecting it to the quote. (Something like “Langston Hughes uses hyperbole in his story,” followed by the quote.) They talked for a bit about how to connect the two sentences.
- I talked about how most paragraphs/papers on lit are based on problems of interpretation: something about which reasonable people can disagree. Arguing that Huck Finn is the protagonist in Huckleberry Finn would be a dumb paper topic because, as one of your students put it, “you could prove it in two sentences—you don’t need a paper.” Arguing what Jim’s role is in the novel, though, would be worthwhile, and they came up with all sorts of examples—issues of slavery, race relations, and racism; a “father figure” for Huck; and Jim’s dialect as “spice” (their word) for the novel.
I bet when we go back on Tuesday, that section is going to have this quote thing down way better than my other sections. I will probably go back with the others and review following his method.