The Impossibility of Perfection: Franklin's Speckled Axe & Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

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SWBAT analyze how Jefferson unfolds his arguments and establishes claims against England and for independence by examining the structure of argument in "The Declaration of Independence."

Big Idea

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," students will need to explain and justify their own arguments. The Declaration of Independence models crafting strong arguments, persuasive appeals, and rhetorical devices for students.

Introduction: It's Chicken Dance Day!

3 minutes

I provide students with an "Understanding Argument" worksheet for "The Declaration of Independence" as I welcome them to Chicken Dance Day (as per Cincinnati's Oktoberfest Tradition), and we hold the Friday Favorite poll. As always, Daily Holidays serve to build the sense of communication and community I try to establish in my classroom.  

Examining Imperfection: The Speckled Axe

10 minutes

Today serves as an opportunity to wrap up the conversation from yesterday regarding Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, in paricular the symbolism of the speckled axe anecdote (see pages 82-83 of the .pdf). A student volunteer reads this section, another will paraphrase it, and as a class, we will discuss the meaning. Here, I bring the students' responses to "Are any of you perfect?" back up, then ask "why you keep doing it, if you can't be? We wrap up discussing the value of accepting our imperfections. 

Analysis of the speckled axe passage also provides for an opportunity to expose students to Close Reading (a skill we will explore in more detail in later units) as we pull out what "speckled" actually means, through examination of the use in the text (RI.9-10.4). I typically pull out a prop axe, and with a student playing the smith, pantomime how spinning the wheel wears the axe-owner out, and why he'd settle for the imperfections. Tying this back into the earlier question about perfection brings the lesson full circle ("Like a grinding stone!" I point out to the students), and helps the students understand why Franklin accepted his imperfections, and the ultimate message that trying to improve ourselves matters, not reaching perfection (RI.9-10.5). 

Structuring an Argument: The Declaration of Independence

35 minutes

To continue our look at The Enlightenment, we move on to another of the United States' founding fathers closely associated with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson. While Franklin addresses the ideas of the age, Jefferson will more clearly tie in to the persuasive rhetorical techniques we are studying. Students are asked to take out the "Understanding Argument" worksheet given as they entered. I inform students that they will have the rest of the period (until the Two-Minute Warning) to read the Declaration, starting with the biographical section on Jefferson. Students are able to move around the room, sit on the floor, or in a "comfy chair" while they read and respond. I suggest they read the questions first, and let them know that the cannot answer the last one yet, as we have not yet read Patrick Henry. As students read, I circulate the room, offering any clarification I can, but I also grade the short answers from their test from earlier in the week as I walk. This allows me the opportunity to directly conference with students about those writing assignments in a manner that does not interrupt other activity. 

As we've been focusing in direct instruction or testing for the past few days, I felt students needed an opportunity to work at their own pace. The Declaration of Independence is a perfect opportunity for students to examine a seminal U.S. historical document (RI.9-10.9) independently. I also see value in allowing students to find their own "comfortable space" to read, as they take ownership of the classroom, and through that, the material.

As students read, the questions direct them to identify textual evidence of the techniques Jefferson uses (RI.9-10.1), to examine how Jefferson unfolds the events that led to the desire for independence, as well as his argument against the kind of England (RI.9-10.3), and explore the impact of specific words and phrases used in the text (RI.9-10.4), particularly his use of parallel structure (L.9-10.1a). 

Two Minute Warning: Homework and Experimenting with Exit Slips

2 minutes

As students read, I handed them slips of paper. With two minutes remaining, I asked them to identify, quickly, what they felt was the most important "Self-Evident Truth" and why. Exit slips provide a chance to gauge student focus and learning; they become accountable, immediately, for a written formative assessment (W.9-10.10). (Exit Slip Sample 1Exit Slip Sample 2).

I am am able to provide feedback to the students are their exit thoughts, and give these back at the start of class tomorrow, to provide an opportunity for reflection before we move on.

I reminded the students that anything not completed regarding Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence" is homework, so that we can be prepared to address these ideas tomorrow in class.