We have some unfinished business today from the last class due to my absence, so we’ll start with re-visiting the article “Wrong Answer: The Case Against Algebra II” by Nicholson Baker (September 2013 Harper's Magazine) particularly looking at the organization of the argument present, as well as the general strength of the argument. Additionally, students will share some of their questions and statements for entering a conversation with the author. Since we are looking at this after a long weekend, and students read it last Thursday, we will not spend a great deal of time on with it as a class (the assessment of their reading will come from the reading sheets they wrote on Friday). We have revisited a number of pieces lately, so today I want to try to get back on track in terms of completing a lesson in the time I want to finish it. Therefore, this part of class will be done as a full group discussion. I will ask students to review the article and reading sheets for about five minutes to re-acquaint themselves with piece and their responses. After that, I will ask students to share information from their reading sheets, as well as questions and statements. I will ask for volunteers first, though I may also call on individuals, too, to involve everyone in the discussion. The parts of the text they choose to bring up will be the springboard for me to move the discussion, focusing specifically on the rhetorical appeals and organization of the text.
After we’ve touched on the author purpose, tone, organization, and ethos, and students have shared some of their opinions originating from their questions and entries into the conversation statements, I will share the letters to the editor from the October, 2013 Harper's Magazine in response to the article (I’m learning more and more the benefits of using current non-fiction work from magazines!). My goal here is to show students how it is okay to have other opinions, but base them in the text. As we look at the three letters (I will use the ELMO document camera to put them on the screen), we will evaluate the arguments these writers make (there are two that are strong and based in the text; the first one, however, doesn’t really make a lot of sense). Doing this also serves as a model for what they will write in response to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read” by Francine Prose, the article we will start next. Although they won’t write this until tomorrow, I wanted to introduce it today so they read it with the notion that they will have the opportunity to write a response to it. We will come back to these tomorrow after they have read that piece, and I will also provide them with hard copies to take home as models.
The final letter to the editor takes what the author argues regarding the limitations of the Common Core standards and algebra II and applies it to English. This provides a nice natural transition to the new reading, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read” by Francine Prose. In looking forward to the synthesis essay students will write in a couple weeks, I am trying to provide students with a few different articles within a different sub-category of education. This piece, along with the mathematics piece, revolves around the question of why certain topics are taught in school.
With this lesson, I want students to start recognizing the rhetorical situation of a text from the very beginning—the first paragraph, and become conscious of how much information a writer provides there regarding central idea, tone, and ethos. So we’ll read the first paragraph of the piece out loud, then do a class-wide SOAPStone analysis of it before moving forward. We will look for evidence in this paragraph that allude to subject, occasion, audience, purpose, speaker, and tone. Also, I want to look specifically at how ethos is established early in a piece of writing through the writer’s voice, point of view, and initial pieces of information (Prose has a very strong voice that rubbed people the wrong way when this was first published—it certainly did that to me!). By doing the SOAPStone first, students will already have this information.
We then will read a few more paragraphs out loud and talk about some of the “moves” she makes, particularly regarding ethos and establishing her argument. This is also to tease for the piece—since they chose to take AP English, most of them have had positive experiences reading, and positive experiences with books. Therefore, I’m guessing their disdain for Francine Prose will be rather strong early. One of the other lessons here will be how it is important to identify your own biases when reading a piece so you can then look at the argument more objectively. With rhetoric, kids (and adults!) have strong visceral reactions at times and want to argue based on emotion rather than logic. One of my goals is to teach students how to be conscious of that, so they can acknowledge recognize their biases and still enter into discourse in a logical, intelligent manner rather than an emotional way that may lack substance.
Next Steps: Students will finish reading the article for homework, answering the rhetoric and style questions from their textbook, and also writing five questions for the author as they write. The questions are very specific to rhetorical strategies and language; since the students have struggled a bit with the less specific reading sheet questions, I will have them answer these to practice close reading by addressing specific passages.