Precursor to "Flowers for Algernon"
Lesson 1 of 3
Objective: Students will discuss issues related to the themes of the story they will be reading, "Flowers for Algernon" and will do brief research about points on the timeline of special education in the United States.
Students will begin by selecting an index card from the center of their table. On each one is a number (1-4) and a question for them to think about for a moment and then respond to. The questions available are:
1) Is it morally acceptable to change a person's intelligence through surgery or medication?
2) What is something you would change about yourself if you could? Why?
3) How do the people you know and/or see around treat others who may have intellectual disabilities?
4) Is it better to be smart and unpopular or to be popular and considered unintelligent? Why?
I start this particular lesson this way in order to get students into a mindset that will help them to process key ideas and details in the excerpts from Daniel Keyes' story "Flowers For Algernon" by evaluating and expressing their own beliefs and ideas in a small group setting. I find that doing this in small groups allows students to feel more comfortable being honest with one another. As students are discussing, I move throughout the room and just listen. I do this to ensure everyone is on task, but also to pick up on concepts and ideas the students are sharing. I will bring up some of the most thought provoking ideas in the next section of the lesson in order to continue challenging the students to think and reflect on their own perceptions.
I bring the class to whole group to share some of the ideas I heard in their table talks. The ideas I share really depend on the class and what stands out to me. Oftentimes, I share with students particularly provocative ideas regarding the treatment of the intellectually disabled to start. I do this because it helps to create a strong sense of empathy among the students, and this empathy will really support meaningful analysis for them as the story develops. I then try to focus on the idea of popularity versus intelligence, acknowledging that they are not always mutually exclusive, of course, but to treat it as such for the moment, for the sake of argument. In doing this, I allow the students to wrestle with their own ideas on this topic.
I then introduce them to a Timeline of Special Education. I have the students select one of the points from the timeline between 1897 and 1975 by drawing from the "Magic Bag." I explain that they will work in table groups (3-4) to research their chosen point in the timeline and prepare a 2-3 minute presentation for the class using a reliable website and/or document that can be shown on the SmartBoard as they share an analysis and summary of the key points relating to their topic.
I then give them the remainder of the class to complete their research and take notes. I allow them to begin at the timeline website, but they must get all their information from a different source. I have shown students how to use ebscohost and other reputable sites for searching, so they have prior knowledge that will support them in their search for meaningful and reliable information.
The remainder of the class period is spent with the students on the computers (I either take them next door to the computer lab or borrow the laptop cart from our media center) doing their research. I make myself available by maintaining proximity and asking leading questions when needed to help ensure student pairs are finding and including important and necessary information. The one area I expect them to struggle is with selection of a quality source. I have provided them with a great starting point, and many students would prefer simply to copy that info rather than find another site or two that further validates that. It isn't laziness exactly, but a lack of motivation. Some of the groups require a bit of a pep talk to really get it going at this point.
While students research, they are to fill out the Notetaking Graphic Organizer that will help them to include all the information they believe to be relevant while staying focused on the task at hand. It is a rather simple worksheet that focuses on what the event or legislation was, the people who were involved, the people who were directly impacted, and how it impacted society overall.