Today, I introduce students to elements of Native American literature that we will be analyzing in the literature I selected for this unit. The information is quite challenging and I know they have not been expected to work at this level, but I believe that with support they can access the material I am presenting. It is a challenge I want us to take on because it is the type of work that will allow my students to meet Common Core Standards.
I distribute the chart titled “Juxtapose Mainstream Lit And Indigenous Lit." I tell students that we will be using this chart to analyze the texts in this unit. I point out that there are several challenging words on this chart, beginning with the one in the title, juxtapose. I show them this Juxtaposition definition poster and post it on the wall. I explain that to juxtapose means to put two things side by side to compare them and achieve a certain effect. I refer back to the chart to show them that we are putting elements of mainstream literature and elements of indigenous literature side by side and that the purpose of this is to highlight the differences between them so that we may better understand the Native American literature pieces we are engaging with in this unit. I then define “mainstream” and “indigenous” and give students time to write quick notes next to these words to help them remember what they mean. I expect that they will need a definition for most of the other words on the chart, but I want them to work on finding these in pairs. Looking up definitions is time consuming and working in pairs will significantly cut down the time.
I ask students to pair up and give them a good amount of time to work together to define any word they don’t know the meaning of. They are allowed to use their smart phone to look up definitions as well as the dictionaries in the classroom. As they work, they need support making sense of some of the definitions. They also need help finding definitions for certain words like “cyclical” because its definition in the dictionary will be included under “cycle.” I make general remarks during this time like, “You all need to note that there is no ‘hierarchical’ in the dictionary, only hierarchy, but that is what you are looking for because it’s the same word as a different part of speech. Hierarchical is the adjective and hierarchy is the noun.”
I also have to tell students not to copy the definition word by word because that usually means they do not understand the meaning it seems right to have something written on their paper. I literally tell students, “Process the information through your mind before you write anything.” For instance, a possible definition of “communitarian” may be: of or relating to social organization in small cooperative partially collectivist communities. If I see something like this on their paper I ask, “What does that mean?” I often get a blank expression as a response so I will say, “Process it through your mind. What does it mean to be communitarian?" Today, a student responded, "It means to care for your community." I said, "Yes. That’s what you should write on your paper." I do this repeatedly during this activity.
Once students finish defining all challenging vocabulary, I engage the whole class in an initial analysis of the elements we juxtaposed. Specifically, I ask students to think of what we can expect of Native American literature based on these elements we juxtaposed. This is challenging task for them as well and I offer a lot of support along the way. I essentially want them to verbalize what this juxtaposition reveals to us. I pose the task in this manner, but I also state it in simpler terms in the form of the question, “What can we expect to find in a piece of Native American literature, based on this chart?” I project a copy of the chart on the board. The chart is a Microsoft word document so I use the insert comment feature to write students’ responses to this question. This is the whole group analysis of the chart juxtaposing main stream and Native American lit we produced today. I take one pair of juxtaposed elements at a time. At this point, the definitions still need to be further clarified in their mind and this poses obstacles throughout. Several confusing suggestions were made and I had to take a step back and redefine the term and explain it before they were able to come up with something that made better sense. The comments we ended up adding to the chart, are generally accurate, but they relied on me for a lot of support during this activity. I am not terrible worried about this right now because we will be talking about these repeatedly throughout this unit and we will be looking at concrete examples, which always helps them wrap their brain around these. I give students a couple of minutes to jot down some of these notes on their chart. The challenging vocabulary is a major obstacle that makes it difficult to study juxtaposition in depth. Still, it is important to begin to expose students to these complex terms. They do help achieve the intended goal of helping students understand the literature we are about to read. I explain this further in this video.
Finally, I ask students to add a couple of bullet points at the bottom of their chart. You can see these on the copy attached. These are two more sets of ideas often addressed in Native American literature. Some coincide with the elements juxtaposed, but these two bullet points also explicitly explain things we will be reading in the texts of this unit.