I begin class on this day by asking the students to write down 1-2 questions they have about each of the two texts, the "Ain't I a Woman" speech and "Still I Rise". I want to clear up any lingering concerns or issues before we get to the stage where we begin writing about the text.
The students write their questions down on a note card, making sure to include which text it relates to, but not including their name. I take just a few minutes to quickly address the questions that are most pertinent and that I feel are necessary. Sometimes kids write silly things down, so I politely skip past those.
Some relatively common questions that I address include:
1. Why does it matter what these women think about being a woman?
2. I am a boy, why does this matter?
3. These women seem to have very different ideas of what being a woman is like. Am I misunderstanding?
I also address more specific, text-related questions, but these tend to vary greatly. Having read the texts, the questions have never caught me off guard, yet.
After sifting through all the questions, I move to the first part of the day's primary activity: comparing and contrasting the two texts. I let students know that we will be looking at structure, themes, literal language, figurative language, and whatever else might catch our eyes.
I begin by having the students draw a Trifold graphic organizer that matches the one I show them on the board. It looks like a t-chart, only with 3 columns instead of 2. We label the left side "Ain't I a Woman?", we label the right side "Still I Rise", and we label the middle "Concepts/Ideas".
I assign the students to one side or the other by counting off through the room, "1" or "2". I have all my 1s focus on "Ain't I a Woman?" and I have my 2s focus on "Still I Rise". My reflection addresses why I take this approach.
Throughout each of the concepts that students are focusing on, they are expected to write a summarizing/clarifying statement about the concept and how it is addressed in the assigned text. They then are to make note of specific textual evidence that supports their statement. I generally look for 2-3 pieces for each concept.
After the students have finished taking the notes on their assigned text, I have them pair up with a partner and share their information. They are not to simply just copy down the information their partners wrote down, they are expected to talk their partners through what to write down. Each student should walk their partner through the pieces of evidence selected with the how and why behind them. "How does this evidence support the claim?" "Why is this the best support?" It is important for the students to explain these aspects to their partners as it does two things: 1) It helps the student better understand his or her own thinking and 2) It helps the pairs develop a common understanding that builds capacity.
While students are sharing information with their partners, I make my way from group to group in order to provide feedback and support as needed. My students tend to need pretty frequent reminders to explain their thinking to their partners. They naturally want to make this "easier" on themselves by just sharing their answers and moving on. It is important to make sure they persevere through the process as it supports one another's understanding of the two texts. Making my way throughout the room, and not spending too much time with any one particular group helps me to keep the students accountable for following the process with fidelity.
After the students have shared the information from their individual texts, I have them move into their table groups. I find it is important to have balanced groupings, so I make the moves necessary to have each group include four students, 2 for each text. I try very hard to avoid having groups where they have 2 students with one text and only one student on another. If it cannot be avoided, it's ok. The entire class has read both texts closely and have shared about both texts with a partner. I just think it is ideal to have even groupings.
Now that students are in groups of four, they will fill out the top hat graphic organizer. This is a tool that was shared with me in a book study of The Core Six. This organizer is a wonderful replacement for the less-than-effective Venn diagram. Student groups start by sharing the information they have for each of the texts individually that is different. They then focus on the areas that are similar between the texts. By this time, the students have read through the text multiple times and have talked with multiple people about the text, so they are becoming confident with their understandings and ideas about them. It is great to see!