My class periods are held in 100-minute block sessions. Activities in this lesson take one class period to complete.
In the lesson outlined below, students engage in writing and collaborative discussion activities to review Beowulf through "The Battle With Grendel's Mother."
Today, I explain to students that we will do a directed freewriting on Beowulf (Handout Displayed: BEOWULF Directed Freewriting) to allow students write down their prior knowledge and thoughts about the epic poem without censorship. Students write for approximately 10 minutes. Once done, I ask them to read their writing and list five observations about it (Student Work: Directed Freewriting). I also use this to help students reflect upon and evaluate their knowledge about Beowulf since we write responses, summaries, and participate in collaborative discussions while exploring the epic poem over multiple class sessions.
If I were to complete this task again, I would have partners exchange papers to read one another's writing and write substantive marginal comments or questions on why they may agree/disagree with a partner's interpretation. (Before allowing students to interact in this way, I would model the process with another student. I would ask for a volunteer to share writing or use my own writing. Displaying the writing on my document camera, I would read my partner's writing aloud. I would use a think-aloud to discuss my thoughts on the writing and record them in the margins, showing students my process and comments.) Then students would return papers to their owners, and we would debrief as a class about questions/observations to address comprehension gaps. I think it's important for students to have ample time to share their literal comprehension and interpretations of the text.
Last class students wrote individual responses to "The Battle With Grendel's Mother" then worked in collaborative groups to write a 10-bullet summary of the section. Students were able to discuss their interpretations and perspectives on the text and begin reconciling them by collaboratively writing a summary (Student Work: Collaborative Summary).
I decide to spend one more class period on this text because of the complex nature of the plot. I want students to have adequate time to sift through their responses, questions, and interpretations.
Today, they reconvene in their groups to review "The Battle With Grendel's Mother" their summaries for accuracy, and review/discuss any remaining questions or interpretations of the text. Then they list five questions/observations about the text, including matters the text leaves uncertain.
I collect group questions and observations (Student Work: Sample Questions/Observations on "The Battle With Grendel's Mother"), and as a class, we address each question, observation, or uncertainty. Some uncertainties students have are, "Why does Beowulf choose to attack Grendel's Mother at night? Why does Beowulf fight Grendel's Mother alone?". Students try to answer these questions from Beowulf's point of view, and we discuss why the text leaves the matters uncertain, thinking that doing so adds more suspense for the reader.
In previous lessons, I modeled and coached students to return to the text for clarification of observations or questions. What suprises me this time is that students take the class back to the text to provide evidence and clarification for their answers. If students simply answer a question without doing so, other students ask, "Where did you find that? How did you come to that conclusion?". Students are passionate about supporting their interpretations and do so accurately.
We discuss Beowulf's anger toward Grendel and Grendel's Mother after one student asks, "Why is Beowulf so outraged towards Grendel and his mother?". I reference our discussion from last class about the juxtaposition of Grendel and God's creation as described in the beginning of our first Beowulf excerpt, "Grendel," pointing out the dichotomy of Absolute Good, represented by Beowulf, and Absolute Evil, represented by Grendel and his mother. I do this to reorient students to the central conflict in the text to explain Beowulf's righteous anger towards Grendel, his mother, and their attacks. Beowulf represents God's creation and its beauty while Grendel and his mother act against God's creation by attacking Herot.
I think it is important to debrief as a class because students may have similar questions and observations; the all-class discussion gives students the opportunity to learn about different classmates' perspectives on the text, discuss them, and receive clarification to fill comprehension gaps. It also allows me to gauge my students' understanding of the text and provide remediation by revisiting the section or text as a whole to provide clarification as necessary.
Since students engaged in directed freewriting, summarizing, responding to, and clarification of questions and observations, I use my Learning Scale (Learning Scale: Use for Lesson Checkpoint) as a lesson checkpoint to gauge students' understanding of Beowulf. Students indicate their understanding is at a "4" proficient or a "5" highly proficient. Several students say the activities we engage in, such as discussing responses and creating summaries in small groups then debriefing as a class help them feel confident about their understanding of the text.
In previous lessons, we have watched clips for each section from the film Beowulf (Paramount, 2007) to compare and contrast its interpretations with our text's translation by Burton Raffel.
For today's Ticket Out, students characterize the differences between the film and the text so far to synthesize and evaluate their understanding of the differences, and note at least three differences between the text and the clip for "The Battle With Grendel's Mother" (13 minutes, 54:55 to 1:08:45) to contrast interpretations (Student Work: Ticket Out on "The Battle With Grendel's Mother"). I engage students in analyzing multiple interpretations of the text, and evaluating how each interprets it.