Today my plan is to spend about fifteen minutes with the Rockwell painting and a lot more time with the cartoon (both of these are in The Language of Composition 2e textbook). I wanted to have students work with the Rockwell painting to practice reading a single static image, analyzing how the individual images work together along with color, space, and other tools of the medium to make meaning, something the students found challenging earlier in the semester (this type of analysis is a requirement of the College Board for AP English Language and Composition). However, the cartoon is the piece that will be a model for their assignment tonight, so we will work more with that one. Additionally, I don’t really care too much for the questions in the text. I feel like they make assumptions about Rockwell, such as having a specific goal of “encouraging an optimistic outlook on the future” with the painting that I think are a stretch. So why use the questions? On standardized tests students aren’t always going to get questions they agree with or make total sense; those are written by humans, too. But, they still have to recognize when the question is stating that something is true, and start their answer from that point, in order to do well on the test. So this discussion will serve the purpose of test preparation, too.
Most of the class today will be in the form of a full class discussion; the booster week excitement will be heightened today (Wednesday), so any small group work will probably not result in much rigor (these are the intangible things you learn after 17 years teaching in the same school!). Given this, before we get to the questions we will brainstorm all the things they see in the painting (a variation of the eyes and ears protocol I’ve done with video in an earlier lesson), and I’ll write these on the board. This serves as a model for students who have found visual texts challenging thus far—a pre-analysis step to take. The first question asks the students to exam “props” in the painting and from their identify what Rockwell claims are the “tools” of education, so this brainstorm also clarifies the question in case students had trouble with it.
From here, we will go through the questions, first talking about what the questions are asking and what assumptions they make about the painting, to emphasize the need for recognizing what a prompt is actually asking. When we answer the questions, we can also refer to the brainstorm list if necessary to provide evidence.
I like the questions in the textbook for this piece (What I Learned: A Sentimental Education from Nursery School through Twelfth Grade by Roz Chast; unfortunately it is copyrighted material, though if you have a New Yorker subscription you can probably find it in their archives) much more than the Rockwell piece because many of them ask students to specifically analyze the synergy of written and visual text for making meaning. Additionally, there is a question asking how the narrative element of the cartoon contributes to Chast’s rhetorical appeal, which is a rhetorical devise we haven’t talked about much up to this point. The other reason I want to focus on this piece today is because I think the cartoon is really entertaining, and I think the students will, too. Given that it is Booster Week, and tomorrow is the class Olympics in the afternoon, I wanted to continue to work on expanding the conversation on education and working on close reading skills with a couple days of more light-hearted assignments, one of which will stem from this cartoon.
I will facilitate this section more like a Socratic seminar in the beginning, at least, letting students simply respond to the text. The cartoon is funny, and I think they’ll have a lot to say about it, so I want to give them that opportunity first before tackling the questions. As I listen to their discussion, if a specific reference relating to one of the questions come up, I’ll steer it to that space so we can focus on that synergy between visual and text, and also recognize how she uses narrative to make a strong critique of education.
Once we have completed our discussion of the cartoon, students will complete a creative journal assignment using the Roz Chast cartoon as a model. Specifically, I will ask students to free-write for 15 minutes about "What they learned yesterday" in school, trying to capture the absurdities of the school day in the same way she does. This acts as part of an assessment of their understanding of her argument, since they are being asked to make a similar argument for a one day span. This will also be a draft of ideas from which they will literally draw ideas. Their homework will be to write a cartoon version of their school day with Chast's cartoon as a model, and they will share and explain these in class tomorrow. This activity gives students a chance to use visuals and written text together to make an argument in a low-stakes manner (it won't be graded), but gives some motivation to complete the task since they will share them. I will also make sure they understand that they will not be evaluated for their drawing ability--it is about the details they present and using narrative experiences to make an argument.