Today will be our official start to the unit on Realism & Naturalism. As I typically do, students were assigned to take notes over the upcoming unit's history and literature after the test administered last period. If you're starting with this unit or lesson, our discussion in the Introduction section will be focused around the independent reading and notes in The American Experience, Prentice Hall Literature Online: Common Core Edition (pg. 462-473), which covers the nation's major historical events and literary movements from 1850-1914. The same material could also be covered using an alternate set of materials, including America's Best History U.S. Timeline and the Realism and Naturalism pages of PBS's The American Novel. A set of student notes is included in the Resources section.
Our lesson today will start off with a discussion of the historical context and major literary genres, Realism and Naturalism, of this unit, which runs from 1850-1914. Since students will arrive to this class period with their own notes on these topics from our reading assignment last time, we will just be hitting on the "highlights" of the reading section and important ideas of this unit.
After we review the notes, we will move on to learning a little more about the history of the time, specifically the Civil War, to better frame our investigation of our informational texts today. Students will open a Google Doc, and I will instruct them to keep a list of their reactions, surprises, and information that they learn while watching the John Green video below. While all students have learned about the Civil War, many have not done so for some time and this video offers all kinds of interesting, helpful information that students will be able to put to use in our upcoming reading.
Following the video, I will ask students to explain to me some of the things they found interesting or learned that they never knew before. Things that typically come up include:
In order to provoke more discussion, I will ask students to consider and discuss the following questions:
Today's class-readings will come from historical narrative texts, which students can sometimes take some cajoling to get excited about. Before we start reading, I will ask students to recall some of the features that narratives (like biographies, autobiographies, diaries, etc.) have that can make them more interesting or exciting to read. We have discussed this previously, so I assume students will fall back on those discussions and suggest they offer a new point of view about an event, give readers an inside story about a person, and more.
Ralph McKim's Diary (15 minutes)
After we build a more positive attitude for reading, I will direct students to a text from Ralph McKim, A Soldier's Recollections: Leaves from the Diary of a Young Confederate, with an Oration of Motives and Aims of the Soldiers of the South, which has been compiled by the Library of Congress, Ameritech Digital Library Competition, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This stellar source goes beyond McKim's journal entries, which are widely available, by offering retrospective commentary and new research that McKim collected on the battles and situations he describes in his journal. We will be reading from page 203-207, which describes an encounter at Gettysburg. Before reading, I will ask the students to consider the credibility of the diary. They will likely say that it might be biased since McKim is only talking about the Southern perspective and the title suggests he will try to argue what the South's motives were during the war. While we read the selection aloud (ignoring the red commentary for the moment), students will be asked to consider the following ideas and be prepared to discuss them after reading:
After we read, students will offer their answers to the above in a whole-group setting. To start off this discussion, I will ask students how many of them feel that, given a mound of sand, tiny artificial trees, and little green soldiers, they could recreate McKim's scene? Most students will respond that they could (and will likely ask you to do so...but fight the urge and your principal will thank you!) due to the extensive use of specific scenic descriptions, including directional words like "left rear" and "left flank," distances like "20-30 paces," measures like "right angles," and time elapsing so they could imagine the sky. This will lead into students correctly answering that while he has the potential to be very biased, McKim's account is relatively credible and objective since few emotion words are used and his admission that he is only reporting things to the best of his memory (like the flag comment). I will ask students to point out exceptions to his unbiased narration, and they should be able to identify his comments about the motives of his superiors and the use of the phrase "gallant little brigade," which is positively connotated and implies bravery. Finally, students will suggest that his purpose may be to document this experience for his own memory (since it's a diary, which is generally personal) or to share his insight with later generations. Students will debate whether or not he knew it would be published when he wrote it, but as long as they show their reasoning, either answer would be acceptable. It's hard to say, honestly, but the Common Core is really focused on the reasoning and support for arguments, so I feel like even unknown questions are worth discussing!
After we complete this discussion, we will go back and read the red "amendments" to the diary, which are comments and later research McKim did on this battle. I will ask if these additions make him more or less objective that we previously thought, and students will again offer their opinion and reasoning.
Robert E. Lee's Letter (15 minutes)
Next, I will ask students what they currently know about Robert E. Lee. Typically, students only know that he was a Confederate general from the South. (I confess, that for most of my life, I also saw him in only that light.) That question will help set students up for the ideal amazement for Lee's insight in our next reading, a letter to his son, George Washington Curtis Lee, in January of 1861. Before we start reading, I will ask students to focus on the following questions, which will be discussed after we read the short letter:
Once we're done reading, we will again go through the questions orally. I will let students pick whichever question they want to discuss first, so they can use clues from those answers to work up to their most-difficult question, which is likely to be connecting Lee to Thoreau. They will not typically have a problem picking out clues that show Lee's son's letter inquired about his thoughts on the war and included a book for him to read and give his opinion on. Likewise, they will probably also be stunned while reading to find that Lee didn't want to succeed, didn't favor war, thought succession was anarchy, and if it came to war, would give up all fighting and grudge-holding after the war was over (even if they lost). He's so genuinely pro-American here that students can quickly grasp these details, and with the knowledge they currently have about him, they will undoubtedly be surprised by this.
If students struggle to connect Lee with Thoreau, I will reread two lines from the first paragraph, "As far as I can judge by the papers, we are between a state of anarchy and civil war. May God avert both of these evils from us! I fear that mankind will not for years be sufﬁciently Christianized to bear the absence of restraint and force." After reading these lines, I will ask students to translate the first and second sentences, which they would have already translated to answer earlier questions. Then, I will reread the second sentence and ask students to translate this into language we are more familiar with. Eventually, they will read this sentence as "It will take years for people to be kind/civilized enough to live without rules and consequences." Once they have the translation, I will ask how this idea connects with Thoreau's believe about government through the following "refresher" question set:
In our final few minutes of class, students will begin reading our final text of the day, Stephen Crane's Episode of War (page 105). Feel free to read the story right through Google or you can download a free electronic copy of the book from the same screen! While students read, they will complete another Metacognitive Reading Log, noting at least difficult or important sections of text from each page (with an associated page number). In the right column, students will be responsible for commenting on the meaning of the quote, asking a question, explaining the rationale used for figuring out a difficult vocabulary word, connecting the text to some other text or personal experience, or narrating the process and reading strategies they used to figure out what challenging pieces of text meant. They have done several of these, so they will be pretty familiar with the requirements. In addition to linking a copy of the Metacognitive Reading Log Template, however, I will also link the Metacognitive Reading Log Rubric and encourage students to read through the expectations before starting this process.
Next class period, we will use student questions and ideas from the Metacognitive Reading Log to frame our discussion of the story. Additionally, I plan to browse through the student folders tomorrow night to ensure that students started these logs in class and have completed them. If students haven't started by that point, their turn-in rate is much lower, so I like to email them reminders to get a higher completion rate! While it does take some extra effort, the reduction in headache-causing incomplete work is worth it.