My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions. This lesson involves students reading independently in preparation for the subsequent lesson on the ending of Beowulf.
Students need time to make sense of the last three sections of Beowulf because there is a large jump in time in the text to where Beowulf has already returned to his homeland and ruled there as king for 50 years. Students are often upset at the abrupt ending to the poem and require independent time to sort through the complex nature of the plot and its language. I provide students the opportunity to reconcile their interpretations about the ending of the poem by allowing them to read the text; answer text-dependent questions; and respond as readers independently.
I begin by having students preread the last three sections, "Beowulf's Last Battle, The Death of Beowulf, Mourning Beowulf" by reading the beige preview text at the beginning of sections; notes on specific phrases or lines in the text and text-dependent questions found in the guide for reading in the right-margin; and any words to know/vocabulary in the beige boxes on the bottom of pages. This strategy allows students to become familiar with vocabulary and footnotes prior to reading them in context, thereby allowing the readers to begin interacting with text features that may enrich their comprehension while reading.
I provide class time for students to engage in prereading as opposed to assigning it for homework so that they have immediate preview knowledge they can draw upon prior to reading in a 100-minute class period. Since many of my students have honors and AP classes, jobs, and community service commitments, I like to give them some time at the beginning of class to preview and review text with my monitoring to (1) make sure they complete the task and (2) emphasize the importance of previewing/reviewing text for college readiness.
Next, I require the students to copy and answer the text-dependent questions (Comprehension: Text-Dependent Questions) found in the guide for reading. These questions focus on specific action in the text, help students examine how the plot unfolds, and engage them in clarifying their understanding of specific events, meanings, or heroic qualities (Student Work: Text-Dependent Questions).
Students write at least a two-page response (front and back of one sheet of paper) that answers the questions, “What is your opinion of and/or reaction to the text? Why?”. Students must include at least five examples from the text to support their response and note page/line numbers in parenthetical citations, highlighting each parenthetical citation to focus on the location of examples in the text. The reader response (Student Work: Reader Response to BEOWULF Ending) engages students in revisiting the text to sort through their reactions to and interpretations of the plot.
Even though students read independently, if they choose to compare their answers and discuss their interpretations as they read, I do not prohibit it. I circulate throughout the classroom periodically to check their progress. Some students ask me questions about the text for clarification, and I lead them back to the text to find the explicit answer or engage them in a think-aloud about what they are reading to help them find the answers/clarifications. Other students assist classmates who have questions in the same way with no direction from me. I believe this is a result of the constant modeling and guided practice I do with my students on examining their process for understanding a text and how to monitor and evaluate their comprehension.
If students prefer to complete the response before completing their questions, I allow them to do so. Some students use the reader response as a review of what they know about the text by explaining their opinions, then return to text-dependent questions to confirm their understanding. I provide opportunities for students to use strategies that work best for them. I want them to have a store of strategies they can draw upon for college and career readiness.