I tell students that the next chapter of Their Eyes Were Watching God, chapter 12, is rich in language that can help us discuss Janie’s quest for autonomy. Students have been copying quotes on a paper I asked them to title “Quotes in TEWWG.” Specifically, they are to copy quotes that address anything about Janie’s quest for autonomy. Today, I want students to select several quotes from chapter 12 because in this chapter we read a lot about Janie’s wishes, things have kept her from taking control of her life and her ideas about freedom. More importantly, we hear it directly from Janie. Students have been doing most of the reading at home, but sometimes they need the quiet time in class to get some reading done. I decided this chapter was a good one to do this for. I give students about 25 minutes to read chapter 12 in silence and to copy several quotes on their list. I take this time to finish giving them feedback on the chart they worked on the day before, a chart where they applied concepts from Feminist theory to Their Eyes Were Watching God. Some of the quotes I expect students to focus on include the following:
"Maybe Tea Cake might turn out lak dat. Maybe not. Anyhow Ah'm ready and willin' tuh try 'im."
"Dis is uh love game. Ah done lived Grandma's way, now Ah means tuh live mine."
Anything in the following paragraph: "She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn't sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin' on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh mighlty fine thing tuh her. Dat's shut she wanted for me-don't keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. Sh edidn't have time tuh think whut tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin'. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high stool lak she told me, but Phoeby, Ah done nearly languished tuh heath up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin' extry and Ah ain't read de common news yet."
"...but Janie, you'se taking uh mighty big chance." "'Tain't so big uh chance as it seem lak, Phoeby. Ah'm older than Tea Cake, yes. But he done showed me where it's de thought dat makes de difference in ages."
After the 25 minutes of independent reading I ask for their attention so that we can discuss the work they did on the charts the day before. I begin with a lecture on the importance of following basic directions. During yesterday's lesson, I spent a lot of time modeling an example for them, I explicitly made use of resources I wanted them to use, and I was very explicit about the guidelines I wanted them to follow. Still, when reviewing the writing students completed yesterday I see that it suffers from simple mistakes, such as not writing in complete sentences, limiting their analysis to one sentence, not bothering to use analytical verbs, copying the author’s exact words and not writing quotation marks around them. We are close to the start of the first long break of the year and I am sure students are beginning to shut down their academic engine for the break. Like all teachers on campus right now, I have to battle this syndrome. I planned for this assignment to be an opportunity to help students strengthen analytical writing skills, which continues to be an area of weakness for many, but at this point they are giving me so little to work with. I try a firm talk. I tell students that most papers only have one sentence of analysis instead of the two I explicitly asked for. I let them know that two sentences is already a limited amount and that when we look at samples of effective writing, we find tons of analytical sentences. I add that eleventh graders writing less than the limited amount I am asking for is not acceptable. Finally, I tell them that missing quotation marks, page numbers, and incomplete sentences on top of limited analysis is just not what an eleventh grader should be turning in for credit.
I then move on to discuss a different issue, but I soften my tone because I know this is more difficult for them and they need more support. I explain that what I am asking them to practice in this chart is two things: coherence and analytical thinking. I use the chart we created on the board yesterday to explain these two. They do not remember what coherence means so I tell them that coherence means that something holds together well and that in writing the word refers to the idea that everything is connected to a central idea. I ask them to identify the column in the chart where we write a central idea. Their wheels need to turn a bit, but soon they are able to say that the column titled Feminist Concept is the one that calls for a big idea. I remind them that the day before we had written “gender roles” under “Feminist Concept,” as our central idea. I remind them that by the time we finished writing the two analytical sentences for the quote we selected, we realized we were no longer discussing “gender roles.” We were actually discussing a sexist belief that males are superior to females and that we ended up erasing “gender roles” and replacing it with “a belief that males are superior.” I tell them that what we did was work on coherence. How this chart helps them practice the other skill I mentioned, analytical thinking, is very clear to them. I do have to remind them to explicitly use analytical verbs in their analytical sentences. They have heard me explain this many times before. I have told them that when analyzing a quote, they are explaining what the author was trying to communicate as well as what the reader is able to make of the language in the quote. I remind them that to explain this, they need analytical verbs in their sentences. They can use a chart titled Verbs that help in Analysis, which has been posted on the wall.
The other thing I have to talk to them about is the relationship between text, author, and audience. Specifically, I have to remind them not to get these confused. Some of their analytical sentences are written as if they are communicating the beliefs of the student who wrote it when it is clear the student means to say that it is the author’s or a character’s belief. For instance, several students have written something like, “This example shows that men are superior to women.” I know that this is not a statement these particular students would make. It is clear they mean to say that it is a character, like Joe Starks, who believes this. I ask students to reread their sentences and make sure a sentence like this one sounds more like, “This example shows that Joe Starks believes that men are superior to women.”
I now let students work on editing their charts. I spend this time holding as many one-on-one conversations with students, explaining my comments, asking them questions, answering their questions and clarifying confusion. The language in this novel is rich and the lens we are using today, Feminism, can be applied throughout. Once students focus and push themselves, I expect them to have a lot to discuss in their analytical sentences.
Several students were very captivated by this topic and this story. In this in video, I discuss how some were able to engage with the material and this assignment in ways they had not been able to.