Last class period we started connecting with some of the foundational concepts of Transcendentalism through a series of videos from Daniel Simons, a researcher who studies perception. Students were also to read an excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature," then generate questions through a board at TodaysMeet.com to guide our discussion today. This class period will provide more examples of Transcendental ideology, and we will then transition to a connected mini-unit of argumentative works of Transcendentalists that will include a small research project and result in student-created multimedia presentations.
To begin our discussion of "Nature" (Chapter 1), I will ask students a few questions about their overall reading experience.
After collecting this feedback, I will use the questions students generated on the same website to guide our discussion. The questions that were generated by my classes are attached in the resources. My role during the discussion will simply be as a facilitator as needed. I will ask the questions, and students will respond with textual evidence to answer them for their peers. I will also try to arrange the questions as they would arise naturally in the discussion, adjusting the question order to fit each group's needs. There are a few things that I want to ensure happen during the discussion, so in addition to the student-generated questions, I will ask them to expound upon or clarify a few more questions of my own, including:
After we conclude our discussion, we will move on to another work that shares Transcendental ideology, though it was written rather recently by a modern-day author.
The next piece we will read to compare to Emerson's "Nature" is Annie Dillard's excerpt entitled "Seeing" from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and contained in our textbook. It was written in 1974, but the ideas contained in the text are very Transcendental and deeply embedded in nature and finding oneself in nature. Before reading, students will be asked to collect the current knowledge they have about what the word "pilgrim" might mean. The discussion will first swing toward the Pilgrims that settled the colonies, but I will encourage them to use their other current knowledge and online resources to discover more meanings for the word. We will then predict which meaning Dillard probably intended for our story, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, considering that we will be relating it to Transcendentalism and Emerson's "Nature."
Next, I will ask them to tell me what they already know about seeing and the process of sight. They should also comment on the difference between seeing and vision, using examples to illustrate their point. Then, we will watch the following brief video clip to gather more information about this topic, which is an important component in the Dillard essay.
Our final step in preparing for our reading will be to consider our feelings on pennies (which sounds strange, but is completely relevant!). Students will explain if they are in the "pro-penny" or "anti-penny" camp with reasons why they feel that way. Ideally, students will be split about 50/50 so that at least half of the class will feel guilty when they realize Dillard thinks pennies (especially the symbolic pennies in nature) are the most important thing in life. Students tend to participate really well in discussions like these, and consequently, they become more invested in the story to find out what their insights on pennies mean for them.
After our last pre-reading activity, we will begin reading the "Seeing" excerpt from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I use the "popcorn" reading technique to read things aloud in my classroom, and students read at least a sentence and no more than a page before calling on another student to read. Throughout the reading, I will ask students the following questions to help clarify the reading, explore symbols and analogies, and gather feedback from students.
After we have read and discussed the excerpt, students will discuss how the Annie Dillard story matches up with Transcendental themes and Emerson's "Nature." This activity will serve as a review of the genre and essays, and students will be required to provide evidence to support their claims. I do not anticipate students to struggle with this process, as we have discussed it at length, but if they do I will change this activity to a written one which will be completed individually and then shared with a partner before sharing it with the class.
In our final few minutes of class, I will preview an upcoming project for students. Next class period we will be reading "Self-Reliance" and an excerpt from "On Civil Disobedience," which are both favorites of mine. I want students to approach these two difficult texts with excitement, so my plan is to build anticipation and add relevancy for students. I have found that the best approach to do this in my classroom is to work the angle that Emerson, Thoreau, and Transcendentalism were all pretty disliked by the "old people" of the time, but all three were pretty widely loved by young people. I will make the analogy that this school of thinking was akin to all the "dangerous" things that "the kids these days" are into, like technology and "the rap music." Students will generally perk up when they hear that we'll be reading something distrusted by adults for the complex ideas presented. I will build interest in the topic by briefly outlining some of Thoreau's biography, which includes being a "follower" of Emerson, living in the woods with a handful of beans for a couple years, and spending time in prison for refusing to pay his taxes in protest, among other things.
After I have students sufficiently hooked, I will also inform students that they will be creating their own argumentative presentation which will take a stand on some current issue in the news. In order to choose a topic, students must find a newspaper article that has been published in the past 30 days discussing the topic in some way. The article does not have to be argumentative itself, but it should be grounded in a topic that they could argue. For homework, they will be collecting at least two articles from credible online newspapers and linking them in a Google Doc that must be shared with me. We will talk more about this project in the future, but I want to give them plenty of time to find a topic that appeals to them, since it will be our first project like this. We will complete a longer argumentative research project next quarter, so this project will be tremendously valuable to preteach some of those concepts, gather formative assessment on their knowledge of argument, and really emphasize the structure of argument (which is an area students have really struggled with in the past).
The "mini-research" project will have several components, including an outline, Powerpoint (Google Slides) Presentation, and 3-5 Brainshark recording. Attached in the resource section in this file, I will include a sample template for the outline and presentation. I will also include a student's topic brainstorming document, completed outline, and presentation.
At this point, I will not give students restrictions on any topics. I want to encourage them to find something that is interesting to them, not just "easiest" to argue, and limiting the project early tends to result in students that are more conscious of the rubric than their own interests. Next class period, we will analyze our model argumentative texts and look more into the details of our upcoming "mini-research" project.