For homework, students read page 2-7 of Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony on their own. They continued color coding and annotating as they read. I expect students to be a bit confused about what they read. By page 6, the narrative has really become complex. Silko has weaved a series of images from Tayo’s childhood, Tayo’s time during the war, and Tayo being back at home after the war. I expect students to be wondering why they are all of a sudden reading about horses. The author does say that Tayo “could get no rest as long as the memories were tangled with the present, tangled up like colored threads from old Grandma’s wicker sewing basket…” However, the figurative language and the long series of “tangled” memories described in the following paragraphs offer too many opportunities for students to get confused. Today’s lesson will help students make sense of what is going on in the narrative.
My students have limited experience engaging with a text as complex as Ceremony and one way of helping them avoid getting lost is by teaching them the basic relationship between the text, the author and the audience/reader. I do this with a very silly illustration that usually elicits laughter, but definitely captures their attention. Also, the ridiculous look of it helps them remember it. I introduce this by telling them that I am about to explain something that sounds way too simple. I say something like, “It sounds sooo simple, it will make us want to say, ‘duh!’” They all look at me with an odd look, which I take to mean that I have their attention. I then assure them that although it sounds too simple, it is one of the basic ideas effective readers understand very well and inexperienced readers must learn in order to tackle complex texts like the one we have been reading. I tell them that when we work with a text, we are to assume several things. One assumption is that this text was created by someone, the author. This is the first “duh” moment and I go ahead and emit the sound. I then tell them that the author had an audience in mind and this is the third element in this relationship. I draw each of these as I explain, exaggerating elements like the brain and the eyes. I do this for comedic effect. Students laugh at my drawing and make comments such as, “The brain looks like an afro.” What I am attempting to do is give them a visual that they will remember. It tends to work, especially if you leave a copy of it somewhere on the wall and refer to it repeatedly. In this video of the relationship between text/author/audience, you can see how I create this silly illustration as well as the specific explanation of each element.
Once this relationship has been explained, I tell students that their understanding of this is key in keeping track of the narrative in Ceremony.
I want to give students an opportunity to ask questions about what they read on their own for homework. As they begin to ask questions, the relationship between text/author/audience is immediately relevant. On page 7, the author described the time when Tayo got malaria during war and started hallucinating. Tayo imagined his uncle Josiah getting killed in the Phillipine jungles Tayo was walking through with his troop, but this was just a hallucination. One of my students asks about this and a few others claim that uncle Josiah was dead and that Tayo had killed him. Others say that this did not make sense, that they do not think Josiah was dead. I do not explain this part. Instead, I ask them to support their statements with evidence from the text. Easily, those who believe Josiah was really dead, refer to the line that says, “Tayo started screaming because it wasn’t a Jap, it was Josiah, eyes shrinking back into the skull and all their shining black light glazed over by death.” This convinces many that Josiah was dead. Few students are able to point to the following paragraph, which states that Tayo had been suffering from malarial fever, which causes hallucinations. I step in at this point. I explicitly point to the illustration I created and state that we have a text that says that Josiah is dead and also says that Tayo was hallucinating because he had malarial fever. I tell them that the text may say one thing, but that it is up to the reader to try and figure out what the author wants us to understand. I say that Silko may want us to believe that Josiah is dead and that Tayo killed him or she may be saying that he is dead but for a different purpose. I ask them to consider the options. I give them time to think. Soon, they begin to state that it sounds like it was the malaria that made Tayo hallucinate and that Josiah is not dead. I ask them to find textual support for this. They now refer to the line where Rocky explains “it was impossible for the dead man to be Josiah, because Josiah was an old Laguna man, thousands of miles from the Philippine jungles and Japanese armies.” After enough students are convinced of this interpretation, I confirm it. I state that a reader who believes that Josiah was killed in the Philippine jungle misunderstood the narrative and that such misunderstanding occurs when the student gets the text, author and audience confused. I then urge students to keep this in mind when the narrative gets confusing. To avoid misunderstanding, they need to understand that the character or the text says something, but the author may mean something else and the reader needs to figure out what the author wants us to understand. I acknowledge that this is not easy to keep track of, but with practice it will become easier.
Students ask other questions and we work together to clarify.
In addition to the basic relationship between text/author/audience, I want students to track the development of some basic elements of literature: setting, plot, and characters. Although students have studied these elements repeatedly, they always need a refresher. I refresh their memory with this Elements of a Story chart. I begin by posting the chart with definitions only and have the name of each element written on the yellow post its in advance. I show them only the definition because I want students to reach in their memory and push themselves to refresh their own memory. I ask them to remember the name of each element being described. Several begin to call out the elements. Setting and characters are always the easiest ones for my students to remember and I stick these post its without much explanation. Plot usually requires more explanation. Besides the definition posted, I explain that when they are retelling a movie to someone who did not watch it, they are telling that person the plot of the story, meaning that they are telling them each major event in the order that it happened in the movie. I also tell them that when thinking of plot, they basically have to think of the most important things that happen in a story in the order that they happen.
I remind students that part of what makes Ceremony so complex is the structure. It is difficult to keep track of the plot, specifically the mixed time periods, and variety of settings. I want students to keep track of these to help them make sense of what is going on. I instruct students to create a three-column chart and to label each column “setting,” “plot,” and “character.” In the first two columns of this chart, they are to keep a bulleted list of the different settings and plot points. In the third column, they are to keep a bulleted list of important details about the main character, Tayo. They will be working on this chart as they continue reading Ceremony. What I am trying to do is help students keep track of all the events and settings Silko is interweaving as well as the variety of character details she introduces to the reader as the plot unfolds. I like to illustrate the task I am asking them to do so I tell students that we are going to come up with the first item on each list together. They always appreciate this. The first setting we include on the chart is Tayo’s home after he has come back from war. The first plot point we add is how Tayo is unable to sleep and he is having nightmares. For character details we jot down a few, including that Tayo is a war vet, he appears to be sick and is remembering things. This gives students a good idea of what I am asking them to do. I then give them the rest of the period to read and to continue filling in the chart as new settings, plot points and character details arise. They are expected to read through the end of page 11 tonight.