Literacy & Power with Malcolm X (Day 2 of 2)

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SWBAT construct evidence-based inferences and collaboratively analyze an excerpt from Malcolm X's autobiography in order to stimulate discussion about the role of literacy in Malcolm X's life and the role of literacy in their own lives.

Big Idea

Tackle teaching productive group dynamics, close-reading of Malcolm X's autobiography, and the value of literacy all in one day!

Lesson Overview

This lesson is the second lesson of a pair of lessons utilizing Malcolm X's "A Homemade Education" as a bridge between early and contemporary texts, as a practice for close reading, and as an activity to make group collaboration increasingly successful throughout the year.  With regard to the school year, these lessons occur in the first unit of literature study, which focuses on literature of the early Americans: Native Americans, explorers, slaves, and colonists.  Since it's the first unit, we're still building a foundation for each student's individual learning path, practicing what reading means under the Reading Apprenticeship model, and navigating the dynamics of successful, productive group collaboration.  As I mentioned in the first lesson of this pair, I strongly believe in using this text at this point in the year, because it allows my class to experience genuine thought, open discussion, diverse perspectives, self reflection, and contemporary connection to build a stronger community of learners.

At the end of the first lesson in this set, students were to individually complete their observational report (which was due at the start of class today) and finish working through the fourth page of "A Homemade Education" with their groups on the collaborative Google Doc tracking thoughts and practices about vocabulary, reading strategies, and connections while listing questions students have about the text.  The Common Core's speaking skills require students to actively work in groups to achieve a goal while navigating group dynamics, so group work is an important part of my classroom.  To emphasize the importance of working with groups to achieve a task, I incorporate formative group assessment where groups have the opportunity to give their teammates feedback which will help to improve their performance.  Students will have the opportunity to complete feedback on this first formal group activity next time, so I remind them often to be the group-member they want to have in their groups!  

Today, students will review group work from last night and then continue the process of analyzing "A Homemade Education" within their groups.  We will continue to pause periodically as a class to ensure that all students have the opportunity to share their findings and use other groups' feedback as a way to deepen their own learning.  Before the group work finishing the excerpt, I will ask the students to formulate responses to "extended thinking" questions, and for homework they will continue their exploration of present-day illiteracy by watching a presentation and completing both a response sheet and a brief collaborative activity using Padlet and requiring them to synthesize their own solutions for supplementing literacy.



5 minutes

For bell work today, I will give students two objectives.  The first will be to ensure that their Observational Reports are appropriately labeled as "Observational Report (date)" in their Google Folder, which has been shared with me.  Since we are still working through our district's transition to 1:1 devices using Chromebooks, students are still having issues remembering to digitally turn in their work in the correct avenues.  At this point, I've developed an analogy for students to demonstrate that work not placed in the shared folder is inaccessible to me, much like if they were to turn in pencil-and-paper documents under my file cabinets instead of handing it to me.  In either case, the work not placed in the shared folder or given to me would be graded as late (or given a 0 if students never remedied the issue).  I have had more success with this analogy than my previous pleas about the matter, so I'm crossing my fingers that students will remember this moving forward.  

The second objective will be for groups to open their collaborative "Malcolm X" project (in a shared Google Doc) to evaluate their work on the project so far, addressing each group member's section of the three-columned document and noting areas of strengths and weaknesses.  In order to facilitate close group work, I have arranged the seating chart in "pods" of three desks.  In assigning seats, I used results from a Multiple Intelligence Survey and a Canfield Learning Styles Inventory to place students in pods with other students demonstrating similar learning preferences.  In the resources for this section, I included an Excel workbook which automatically translates the data for you just by copying the results from your Google Spreadsheet (generated from the Canfield Inventory form), pasting it into the first page of the Excel workbook, and using the arrows on the third page to see results which are extremely high, moderately high, about average, moderately less, and much less than peers.  In addition to grouping students using learning preferences, I also split up students that typically work together or are friends outside of class for easier classroom management and to ensure that students are more accountable for group work while practicing the skills necessary to navigate complex group interaction, conflict, and diverse perspectives called for by the Common Core.  

After taking attendance, I will also pull up the shared "Malcolm X" reading logs of each group on my computer.  Google Docs shows an icon when anyone is viewing a document, so students are aware of my presence on their document.  From a classroom management perspective, opening their documents gives me several advantages.  First, our school is often contending with students using "chat" boxes within Google Docs to communicate about matters other than the task at hand, and sometimes, about matters which are inappropriate for school.  Since I am also in the document, I have access to the chat history as well, limiting this kind of distraction.  Another benefit of having these documents already loaded is that I can stop by my desk and spend just a few seconds tabbing through them to see immediately where each student is at with their work, noting when students are lagging behind their peers or failing to contribute.  Groups can also use the chat windows to log questions for me while their group is working, and I can respond to them while I monitor their work.  This is a particularly helpful option for groups that have general questions which are not pressing or are shy and would likely not ask a question otherwise.

Building Knowledge

35 minutes

Group Building Reflection (10 minutes)

After students have had time to assess their progress as groups, I will transition the class into a discussion about the collaborative process as a whole-class.  I will ask a series of questions to group, eliciting participation from groups that volunteer to contribute to discussion.  In order to ensure all groups participate in this reflection, I will call on group members for their feedback on these questions if their group has not participated near the middle or end of my line of questions.  The question-progression that I will use will be:

  • So how did your first night of group collaborative work go?  I know many of you had to complete groupwork outside of the class period, so how did you go about that?  Did you set times to collaborate?  Individually complete your sections?  What were the strengths and weaknesses about whatever plan your group chose?
  • How did your group do with meeting the deadline of completing this before class?  Did your group make rules about when this work was to be done by?  Did you build in time to evaluate others' work before arriving to class?
  • What would you change about your group's "plan of attack" for this project?  Why?  If it all went off without a hitch, what tips could you offer other groups for the next take-home group project?
  • Did Google Docs offer enough collaboration ability for your group, or did you use some other app or strategy to work together?  Tools exist for video conferencing, do you think that would help your group to be more productive?  Any insight would be appreciated, especially since much of the group work you do in here is left to you as a group to decide the best tools to use to get it done.  Suggestions?  Feedback?

Malcolm X Homework Discussion (25 minutes)

After groups have had the time to give their opinions and reflect on their group work, we will move on to talking about what each group logged about the remainder of the "A Homemade Education" reading assignment.  Each group had to assign a group member with a Vocabulary Tracker, Reading Monitor, or Connector/Questioner, so I will use this to propel my discussion forward.  For example, all of my 11th-grade classes have between 30 and 33 students in them, so when I ask questions, I will reference the role that would have most certainly logged information about that particular question.  If few or no hands are raised to offer their opinions, I can easily say at any time that I'm sure 10 or 11 students have information written on their log about that topic since they were assigned to complete that role!  Any student is more than welcome to offer comments or opinions, but the students in those roles will be more "on the hook" than their peers are.  This will balance out the discussion participants and propel conversation forward.  As the discussion moves on (and the year progresses), I will have to revert to this strategy less often to get participation.  I don't enjoy calling on students that don't volunteer, but with the reading logs there to give them ideas as to what to say, it lessens the anxiety they may feel about this.  

During the discussion, all student comments and questions must be supported by page numbers, which are given when they offer their point for class discussion.  Students will start comments or questions with "on page..." so that the whole class can turn or scroll to that page to read the section of text their peer is referring to while listening to the comment or question.  When comments are given or questions are asked, I will turn the ideas back to the class to let them respond to the comments with their own opinions and answer the questions with information they have discovered.  My primary role in these discussions will be as a moderator.  The base questions I will ask to guide this discussion are:

  • What words or phrases does he use that your group was able to figure out with context clues?  Are there still any unresolved ones we can work together to solve?
  • How did you feel as you were reading this passage and how did those feelings change throughout reading?  Where did these feelings occur & why?
  • Did any of this text remind you of events in your lives or in what you have read or seen?
  • For a man who learned to read late in his life, his language is pretty impressive.  Are there any areas where he says something in an especially cool way or in a way that really connected with you or convinced you?

Students typically bring up the salient points I want to address throughout this text, but if they do not, I will make sure that the following questions are also asked:

  • Malcolm X says on page 3 that he was never so free in his life until he was imprisoned.  In what ways was he imprisoned before prison?  (Students discuss how his race within the context of the history of the time, illiteracy, education, and the hardships he suffered as a child and orphan were factors creating his "imprisonment."  They also connect that his limited options before prison would make his imprisonment and subsequent education seem freeing, because he would have more knowledge, confidence, and options upon his release.)
  • Why would such a valuable book collection and Harvard professors be available to prisoners?  (Rehabilitation is mentioned by Malcolm X on page 3, and we discuss the merits of the most in-need people having access to the best resources.  We also connect that without these resources, Malcolm X may not have had the chance to rehabilitate and become the civil rights leader that we know of today.)
  • Malcolm X claims that history has been "whitened" according to Muhammed's teachings.  Was he right about that?  What evidence would support that?  Is anything being omitted from the history books now?  Is that possible?  If it's possible history is not 100% told, how can we ensure we know as much as we can about it?  (Students use the fact that Malcolm X was unaware of the complete atrocities of slavery before he was imprisoned (though he had gone to school through 8th grade), supporting the fact that history had possibly been whitened.  It's also really enjoyable to see students have the discussion about what a history book may and may not contain, because it really brings out diverse perspectives and genuine thought.  Students brainstorm ways to get a broader sense of history as well, and we emphasize the need to read a diverse set of informative literature about the past from many sources, engage in conversations with people that have lived history, and researching all kinds of perspectives on issues, even those that might seem contrary to the beliefs we currently hold.  They really get a sense that a wide breadth of knowledge really does equal power, and they take more ownership for seeking out that knowledge.)
  • Why does Malcolm X's language and tone change so much from the opening part of this essay to the middle parts of the essay, beginning around page 5?  What are some examples of this shift?  (Students point out that he's recounting information about very specific, high-level books that started the revolution of ideas for him.  They also note that he reads primarily informational books, only ever reading one novel, and even that was based in history.  They also note the changes in word choice to a stronger, more extreme tone.

Once this discussion is complete, I will give the students time to complete reading and logging the text with their group.  


25 minutes

During the final section of group close reading and discussion, students will be continuing the same practices that they have used throughout this exploration.  Whatever job students were previously assigned within their group (Vocabulary Tracker, Reading Monitor, or Connector/Questioner), they will continue to do.  I will emphasize to students that moving desks to facilitate an oral reading of the text and frequent discussion is the absolute best way to complete each team member's role since they will be able to capture the thoughts, processes, and questions of their peers instead of relying on their own internal reading styles.  Before they begin reading with the group, I will also give them some additional thinking questions for this last round of group reading.

  • During this section of text, Malcolm X continues to discuss the books that he read and explain what he learned from each book.  Many of the ideas he discusses are not just about white people oppressing African Americans.  They represent many different instances of one group oppressing another.  While you read, consider why he would include such dialogue about other cultures when he was primarily interested in civil rights here.  What effect does that have on the reader?
  • Much of this section of text is very strongly worded, using charged language and analogies to demonstrate his point.  Why do you think he uses such strong language?  Does he have a right to use this language considering his past hardships and personal struggles with oppression?  Do you think these ideas would represent his ideas about these matters later in life after he returned from Meccca and changed his name?
  • It seems that much of what Malcolm X was reading in prison deals directly with topics he became very passionate about.  Do you think he read them because he was passionate about those topics already?  Or do you think that passion sprang from his foundation in these books?  Would Malcolm X have been Malcolm X as we know him if Parkhurst had donated books on another topic like art or gardening?  Consider this as you read and provide evidence for your viewpoints.

While groups work through this section of the text, I will alternate between circulating through the classroom to interact with groups on their journey and checking in on progress on the open collaborative documents on my computer.  If groups stray from the task, I will engage the group on an individual basis by joining in their discussion.  I also may send a chat message to groups to ask if I can help them or if they had questions that were stalling their progress.  


20 minutes

As groups begin to finish their group work, I assign the homework for next time (in the "Next Steps" section).  When all groups have finished their close reading and logs, I will again open up the classroom to discussion to review their impressions on what they read and thoughts on the questions from the "Application" section.  As always, my progression of questions will begin with the same set of questions:

  • What words or phrases does he use that your group was able to figure out with context clues?  Are there still any unresolved ones we can work together to solve?
  • How did you feel as you were reading this passage and how did those feelings change throughout reading?  Where did these feelings occur & why?
  • Did any of this text remind you of events in your lives or in what you have read or seen?
  • Are there any areas where he says something in an especially cool way or in a way that really connected with you or convinced you?

After groups have weighed in on this last section of text, I will ask another set of questions if students have not already brought up and discussed their responses to them earlier.  

  • So why did he include discussions on religious oppression, the Opium Wars, and others when he was primarily interested in civil rights here?  What effect does that have on the reader?
  • Why do you think he uses such strong language?  Does he have a right to use this language considering his past hardships and personal struggles with oppression?  Do you think these ideas would represent his ideas about these matters later in life after he returned from Meccca and changed his name?
  • Would Malcolm X have been Malcolm X as we know him if Parkhurst had donated books on another topic like art or gardening? 
  • Malcolm X says his alma mater was books and compares his education to the education he may have received in college.  Why does he say his education is better than many people's college education?  Do you think the importance of an education in today's culture is overrated, appropriately-rated, or underrated?  Explain your point of view.


At the conclusion of the discussion, students will have the opportunity to get a start on their homework, which is explained in the "Next Steps" section.



Next Steps

5 minutes

At the end of the hour, students will have completed all of the reading and associated reading log, which I will review for genuine thought, effort, and a demonstration of understanding for the directions.  Since this is the first project like this for my students, I will comment on each team member's thought, effort, and completion via email to ensure confidentiality (instead of making personal comments on the group document) and use it as a formative assessment of skill rather than a summative one.  At the start of the next class period, students will evaluate themselves and each group member for their contribution to the group using the Team Member Evaluation Form, and this will also be used to offer feedback to team members to improve future performance.  

For homework, students will be investigating current literacy trends further and will learn more about the different types of literacy by watching a Literacy in America Presentation while completing an Individual Literacy in America Investigation Handout.  The presentation will explain more about the types of literacy, but it will also ask students to make predictions, use a graph to determine information, and synthesize ideas to improve different literacy skills.  Like the in-class project, this form requires students to directly tie evidence from materials they are studying with their inferences and ideas, which is a major focus of the Common Core Standards.  Moving forward, students will continually see the demand for evidence to support their viewpoints and analyses to continue practicing and addressing this requirement.  The handout also requires that students post their suggestions on the "Improving Literacy Padlet."  I made the mistake of creating only one board for 5 classes, but quickly regretted this!  I would recommend that you make a board for each class or explicitly tell students to scroll down or over to place their comments in a new space rather than over other suggestions.  My board for this looked like a Post-It explosion!  Ultimately, they will be using the information from this board to create a plan to improve their own literacy skills.