Defining True Education with David Foster Wallace

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SWBAT determine the central ideas of a complex text through joint construction of meaning with peers and through different media.

Big Idea

Hearing a speaker can sometimes change the interpretation of a text.


Hearing the Author

20 minutes

Students will come in having read the published version of David Foster Wallace’s speech This is Water:  Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life and answered two questions from the textbook (pairs of students each had two questions to answer, as explained in the previous lesson).   Additionally, students all wrote what the speech was about in ten words or less.  This speech brings together many of the ideas we’ve worked with throughout the unit, as Wallace provides his definition of the true value of education.   Therefore, it will act as a nice lead-in to the synthesis essay.

Additionally, one student sent me a video interpretation of the actual speech that puts visuals to audio segments of the actual speech.  It is a really well-done video, so I will use this as part of our study today.

To get us started, I will go around the room and have each student read their ten-word interpretation.  This will give me a sense of how they interpreted the speech, as well as see how they did in their precision writing.   As with the silent sharing of a few days ago, this is meant to let everyone get a voice into the conversation and to hear what peers did; however, I will not talk about any of the statements at this point, unless to praise a particular word choice.  The discussions of meaning will come during the question presentations later.

After reading, we will watch the video.  This will let students hear Wallace’s voice, which I think may change their understanding slightly (it did for me—he sounded older in the written speech than he actually is, and the moments where he anticipates arguments made by the audience sound much more authentic).  Additionally, the video interpretation really brings out the meaning of the piece, so students who may have struggled to understand the deeply philosophical ideas will be able to engage in the discourse about the text.  We will talk as a class for a few minutes about the video, mostly about Wallace’s delivery of the words and how that may have changed their interpretation, and also to let students ask questions to deepen their understanding before looking more closely at the rhetorical strategies of the piece.  

Joint Construction of Meaning

50 minutes

Students will spend about ten minutes with their question partners before they present their findings.  Up to this point I’ve done a lot of the facilitating of open discussions.  Today I want to hand over some of that responsibility to the students by having each group present their findings to the class.  Their instructions are to explain their answers, and to make sure they cite and read at least one specific passage to support their findings.  Class members will be encouraged to add to their interpretation.  I may ask some questions for clarification or to establish a more specific meaning, but for the most part I hope to let the student responses build meaning.

Next Steps:  We will start making a transition to writing a synthesis essay in the next couple days, and students will have to choose a topic to write about.   To help them do this, and to have them start thinking about a topic across more than one text, the students will read the “Conversation” section of the textbook (beginning on pg. 248), which includes seven short readings about a number of topics in education.  We will use these to start synthesizing information and ideas tomorrow.