I begin class today by calling my students attention to the Dialectic Journal Assignment I have posted on the back wall of our classroom.
I instruct them to first read the requirements I have posted around the assignment, and then challenge them to begin setting up the pages in their classroom spiral notebook that they will devote to their dialect journalling. Of course, many will ask me how/what/where, but there will be a few who are able to read what I have posted, internalize it, and get started on the task. Occasionally, I set up tasks for my students that incorporate the challenge of reading and following directions, in addition to whatever ELA skill the task is addressing. Not only is this valuable for my students, to learn to function successfully with written directions, but I find it amusing to watch which students are able to take on the challenge and to predict which students will immediately begin asking me questions about what to do. This always gives me the opportunity to ask, "Did you read the directions?" and to stress what a critical skill direction-reading is.
However, back to the assignment. I am requiring that my students maintain a dialectic journal throughout their reading of Of Mice and Men, logging at least three entries per "chapter" (the book is actually in six separate sections that are not necessarily considered chapters). The dialectic journal is a reading comprehension strategy that I have used a number of times with students of all ages, and I find it often becomes a favorite (The Dialectic Journal). The concept is simple: divide your paper in half, "hot dog" style. Label the column on the left "Passage From The Text" and the column on the right "Why I Think It Is Important." As students read a text, they remain on heightened alert for key passages to record, and then must explain what it is about the passage that seems noteworthy. The dialectic journal can then be used as a discussion-starting piece throughout the reading of the text, as well as a place where students are constantly enforcing a close reading on themselves.
The process can be customized to fit the requirements of any reading assignment. In the past, I have simplified the journaling, labeling the right column "My Reactions To/Questions About The Passage," or "Why I Agree/Disagree With The Passage." For this assignment, because I am encouraging my students to take the lead on the discoveries the text has to offer, I am requiring that their responses are more authoritative in nature.
Thus, today we are ready to begin reading Of Mice and Men, now that my students have equipped themselves with the dialectic journal. It has always been my policy to read the first chapter of a new book as a whole group, and I always share in the reading with student volunteers. I believe this helps establish the tone of the work, and gives me an opportunity to fill in and elaborate on the text whenever necessary.
As we read, I will remind my students that they are on the look-out for passages that they think are important, relying on the methods and strategies that writers use which we have explored in our units throughout the year.
I allow for any student questions or comments throughout the reading, permitting students to share their reactions to any passages, encouraging them to add them to their dialectic journals. I anticipate that they will want to explore the inferences around Lennie's behavior as his character traits become apparent ("I wasn't doin' nothin' bad . . ."). Many students in the past have also been curious at this stage of the book as to the nature of the relationship between George and Lennie ("Are they related?"), so I expect a discussion on that topic as well.
Though we have been discussing the text as we read, I save the last few minutes of class for students to volunteer what passages they have recorded in their dialectic journal and why they think the passages may be important (Student Dialectic Journal).