The lessons in this unit showcase my pedagogic philosophy that students learn best when they are actively engaged. Traditionally, teachers approach epic poetry, such as Beowulf, much as we teach novels and short stories: Students read the text, analyze and discuss it, take quizzes and tests, and write a paper. What happens when we teach the epic through performance pedagogy and pay homage to the oral tradition?
The lessons in this unit emphasize fresh approaches to literary analysis. This lesson is part of a larger unit on the Epic of Beowulf. In its original context, this is
Lesson 4 in The Epic of Beowulf
In this lesson students
Showing students a visual representation of an annotation creates an image in their minds of what their annotated text can look like. This is important for students unfamiliar with annotating. This is important for two reasons:
As students look at the projected image, I direct their attention to the ways Montaigne uses the margins to make notes and the ways he highlights ideas w/in the text: Montaigne Annotation
Next, I give students a definition of annotation:
I suggest that students consider using the Notice and Note signposts we discussed in an earlier lesson to guide their annotations.
To ensure student understanding of annotating, I allow class time for them to work through the assignment, which is to 1) annotate the document Beowulf_poetics and 2) compose a summary of the document based on the reading and annotation.
As students work, I "do a drive by" periodically to check their progress and answer questions. At first, some students are confused about being allowed to write on the document. Others aren't use to writing notes in the margins. They are accustomed to worksheets.
I talk to students whose learning is stalled on the section about the Norman Conquest and the French influences on English phonetics. Asking questions such as, "What idea seems most important to you?" helps them work through the ideas, as does defining phonetics. This gives me the opportunity to discuss the importance of defining terms as knowing the words in a text is the first key to understanding a text.
Equally important during this time is giving students an environment conducive to quiet contemplation as challenging texts need focus and attention: Student Quietly Working on Annotation
Once students complete the annotation and their summaries, I open the floor for a discussion about what we can include in a summary. As the students offer suggestions based on the criteria listed on the examples, I type up the summary as they write: Annotation Beowulf Poetics 1. and Annotation Beowulf Poetics show two variations based on two different classes.
This summary activity functions as preparation for the annotated bibliographies students will compose later in the course, which is why I ask them to include the citation, the selection title, a summary of the text's content, and an evaluation of who will find the information useful.
This work with a challenging document allows students to continue preparing to compose their boasts from the last lesson and to recognize the poetic devices they will encounter as they continue reading Beowulf.