Perfect People: Analyzing the Plan for Perfection in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiograohy

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SWBAT how Benjamin Franklin unfolds his plan for self improvement by analyzing the steps he takes to attempt perfection.

Big Idea

They say, "Nobody's perfect." Students follow Ben Franklin's rational, "scientific" attempt to come close.

Introduction: It's Talk Like a Pirate Day!

3 minutes

Today is the day that actually began the celebration of the Daily Holidays in my classroom, "Talk Like A Pirate Day!" After putting on tricorn and cutlass, I ask the students "Do any of ya swabs know a good pirate joke?" We take a minute for the inevitable, "Why couldn't the pirate get into the movie? Because it was rated Arrrrrrrr!" and I transition to our study of Franklin's autobiography but pointing out that our conversation today will have nothing to do with pirates, parrots, or cutlasses, but it WILL have something to do with an axe...

As always, the Daily Holiday builds the sense of community in my room, and the props help grab the students' attention. The cutlass-to-axe connection is a bit of a stretch, but works as a transitional devices.  

Pre-Reading Review: A Look at Virtues

15 minutes

In order to review the students' pre-reading activity, in which they created a list of the virtues they feel are important in life, I ask the students, "Look back at the list of virtues you compiled; what do you think are the most important virtues?"

I list the students' responses to one side of the board, to provide a point of comparison between their own values and Franklin's. By looking back at their lists, students draw a personal connection to the reading.   

By identifying the virtues students value, we determine the central idea of the plan for perfection, so that in the next section of the lesson, we can analyze its development, how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details (RI.9-10.2) as we explore how Franklin unfolds his plan for improvement. As students share, they propel the conversation by clarifying, verifying, and/or challenging ideas and conclusions (SL.9-10.1c)

To transition to our look at the key theme of the quest for perfection in Franklin's text itself, I ask students how they would improve themselves in the areas of these virtues, offering the connection to what they do when they want to get better at a skill or a sport, a part in a play, or a musical instrument. We share a few responses, but in the past, these have always come down to "practice." I also ask, "Are any of you perfect at what you do?" providing students an opportunity for humor or to share their opinions of themselves. 

Understanding the Quest for Perfection: A Close Look at Franklin's Autobiography

30 minutes

Directing students to the excerpt from "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" (beginning on page 76 of this .pdf, with the line "It was about this time I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection" through page 83, with the line "a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance") which they have read and took note of the process Franklin uses in his attempt to achieve perfection and to paraphrase each of the virtues Franklin attempts to live by. By identifying these details (RI.9-10.1) and how Franklin unfolds his process for perfection (RI.9-10.3), students are prepared for discussion on the work. "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" provides an opportunity for students to analyze a document by a seminal American figure, including how it expresses the Enlightenment ideas of rational thought (RI.9-10.9)

I ask the students to summarize how Franklin went about his plan for self improvement (RI.9-10.2), especially noting the details he uses to unfold his attempt (RI.9-10.3). As the students share, I draw the chart Franklin created (see page 79 of the .pddf) on the board, and fill in the logical, scientific process he went through for self-improvement. 

Using the context of each virtue and its explanation by Franklin, I ask individual students to paraphrase each virtue (L.9-10.4a), and as I go through them, I address common items I use on tests:

1. Explain why Franklin chose Jesus and Socrates for his models of humility? What does this tell us about the values of The Enlightenment? 

2. Why does Franklin say he has so much trouble with order?

3. Which of Franklin's virtues seem to deal with economic success? What does this tell us about Franklin's point of view on success? 

As students discuss, they respond to their peers' diverse perspectives, qualifying or justifying their own views and reaction as needed, making new connections in light of the reasoning of others (SL.9-10.1d). We hold a whole-class discussion to provide modeling and assistance for the students as they analyze a complex, difficult text. The summary models summarizing skills, and also address how Franklin unfolds his plan for self-improvement. Each of the questions I address ties in with a specific idea from the reading, and provides students an opportunity to practice specific critical thinking skills:

1. Jesus and Socrates, historically, had a lot in common; teachers, lived simply, sentenced to death for their beliefs. Finding this answer gives students a chance to practice deduction skills. 

2. He is at the mercy of his clients. Finding this answer gives us the opportunity to practice Close Reading skills, determining how Franklin develops his ideas in one specific paragraph 

3. Typically, order, resolution, frugality, industry. Finding this answer gives students an opportunity to justify their ideas.

Two Minute Warning: Wrap Up & Homework

2 minutes

As class draws to a close, I remind students that we will be continuing our look at Franklin's autobiography tomorrow, and moving on to study Thomas Jefferson, the next example of a seminal American author we will address (RI.9-10.9).

If they have not completed their reading of the background information (see "Puzzling Out Information: A Jigsaw Reading"), I ask they finish on their own for tomorrow, as there is information there that we will address in class.