The students did not do a particularly strong job of answering the series of style and analysis questions the previous day, so they were to re-do these questions for today. Not only do I want to really do James Baldwin justice, but I also want to emphasize that they can’t be slacking on the harder works—so we will spend the majority of today making sure we complete the close reading analysis through the textbook questions. Additionally, spending this much time on this one will model that tackling more complex texts can be done by looking at chunks of text—something the questions from the textbook lead students to do.
As with other lessons where students come in having read a text and responded in writing, I will have them talk to each other for about ten minutes to reacquaint themselves with the piece, and also to verbalize their responses in a less-evaluative space before they share with the group. This will help to clarify some of their thoughts, ask each other questions, and also ask me questions.
After re-visiting the piece, we will work through question by question by question as a class. The questions all refer to specific paragraphs and address a variety of rhetoric and language ideas such as ethos, paradox, use of pronouns, and the effect of organizational strategies. To really hone in on these close-reading skills, I will ask students to read the question and particular passage associated with the question out loud first so everyone can hear and engage in the language. Because we’re working with a slightly more complex text, and the context is not something they are as familiar with, reading it out loud also allows students who may not have followed the reading well a chance to hear it, too. I want to pay particular attention to a couple particularly important rhetorical questions here. One question asks about the rhetorical affect of Baldwin’s use of the word “nigger’—this is a teaching moment to look at how sensitive words can be used effectively, and are, at times, the best words to use for the job. Students tend to feel a sense of maturity, too, when I look at these kinds of words and issues in class—they rise to the occasion. I will also focus on a question about the use of pronouns in a particular passage, and the way the text as a whole is organized, with his humility early followed by the more direct statements (these latter two are other teachable moments from the piece. Pronouns are a challenge because they are subtle; the organization of this speech is different than the Elizabeth Cady Stanton speech we read early in the semester, so I can bring that up in class to contrast organization for purpose and audience).
I will make sure I’m on time today—while I want to spend a lot of time with Baldwin, they are reading Ralph Waldo Emerson tonight and need some modeling to acclimate to the complexity of the text. To do this, I have put together a long list of famous quotes from Emerson. I will hand each student two of the quotes, and they will have two or three minutes to read them, analyze the language for meaning, and also how the meaning could connect to their own lives.
After they feel okay with the quotes (they may have vocabulary questions, which they can ask me about or go to a dictionary), they will get into pairs (they will do this, because they will be switching frequently anyway). When I say go, one student has two minutes to read their quote, explain its meaning, and explain the connection to the modern world. At the end of two minutes, I will give them 1 minute to jointly discuss the quote. Then, after one minute, the other student will do the same thing.
When the time is up for this round, I will ask that one person from each pair get up and find someone else to pair up with. We will do the same process with the other quote (I gave them two quotes so they can choose one to start with that feels comfortable, and also so they have to work with a couple different chunks of text as practice. In less advanced classes, I may differentiate by giving certain students less complex quotes, but with this class it will be random). We will do four or five rounds in this manner, so students get to hear and interpret a number of different chunks of text, as well as build their own interpretation of quotes each time they share it. In this way, students will get a good sense of Emerson’s style of writing as they read an excerpt from Education tonight for homework.