We begin today by allowing my students to share their vignettes that were started in this lesson with the whole group. Once all who desire have shared, I explain that we will need an artist in each class to design the cover for the class collection of vignettes. In some classes, knowing who the outstanding artists are (identified by their proclivity to be drawing above all else during class . . .) , I actually nominate the individuals for class approval.
I explain to my students that I will need a crew of typists to help me retype and format each vignette (I do not anticipate any trouble gathering volunteer typists--one of the perks of teaching middle schoolers over high schoolers is their still willingness to help!), and that once the typing and cover artwork is completed, the end result will be a class collection/memory book of our journey through The House On Mango Street.
Today is the day that we will begin reading our next book, Bad Boy, by Walter Dean Myers. Most of my students have read his book Monster as 7th-graders, and some elected to read another of his works, Fallen Angels, as one of their self-selected independent reading books over the summer. I have chosen to follow The House On Mango Street with this text for a couple of reasons:
Thus, from the focus on student vignettes, I direct my students to the brief powerpoint that examines a few key differences between memoir and autobiography and have them copy down the presentation in their classroom spiral notebooks.
In explaining one of the key differences between autobiography and memoir, I ask my students to think about a shared memory they may have with a sibling or close relative, something like a holiday dinner or a family vacation. I then ask them if they have ever experienced recounting that memory to the person they shared it with, only to find that their version of events is different from the person who shared the exact same moment with them.
I then explain that the experience of funneling that memory through their own emotional perspective is a good way to define how memoir works. The writer of a memoir allows what is emotionally significant to rise to the surface of the story, rather than feeling obligated to strictly stick to the facts.
I believe it is always wise to begin reading a new text as a whole group--I equate it to successfully pushing a boat as a team from dry land into the waters of the journey, in order to get everybody safely on board and on their way.
I explain to my students that as we read the first chapter as a whole class, I want them to keep track of Walter's family tree, to see if they can follow the trail of who he ends up with as parents by the end. I tell them to highlight the name and relationship each time a new family member is introduced.
I like to have my students focus on his family ties in this first chapter in order to point out how unconventional his upbringing might seem to many, in that he is reared by his father's first wife and her new husband. When we finish reading chapter one, I have my students add Walter's Family Tree to their notes on memoir as I create it with their help on the document camera.
This makes for an easy connection to the theme of identity, previously explored in the unit on The House On Mango Street, and the idea that regardless of where one comes from or no matter the circumstances, his/her potential can be limitless. I even point out that Walter Dean Myers is currently the national ambassador for young people's literature, which gives me the opportunity to further stress the point.
As we finish reading chapter two, I ask my students to identify the voice and tone of the last two pages, as the author recalls his desire to read with his mother (beginning with the paragraph "The sound of Mama's voice in our sun-drenched Harlem kitchen . . ."). By asking my students to focus on this section, it provides a nice example for the emotional truth that often guides the exposition of a memoir.
Before class ends, I assign chapters three and four for homework.