The Dream Lives On: Reviewing & Exploring the American Dream in Literature

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SWBAT analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specifc work as students critique and discuss other's reactions to Walt Whitman's portrayal of the American Dream in "I Hear America Singing."

Big Idea

Walt Whitman, Angela De Hoyos, Langston Hughes, and Pablo Neruda bring a variety of dreams to the table; how does their vision of the American Dream differ from F. Scott Fitzgerald's?

Introduction & Welcome: A Fitzgerald Anniversary & Make Up Your Own Holiday Day

8 minutes

We open class noting the anniversary of the publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, "This Side of Paradise", and "National Make Up Your Own Holiday" Day! Our thematic focus today is about asking for and/or demanding recognition of a "seat" at the American table, so in order to "warm them up," I ask the students to consider who or what they would like to see recognized with a holiday. 

I ask students to take three minutes to jot their thoughts down before sharing their thoughts and a reason why a holiday should be established, providing an opportunity to practice and develop developing their writing with a specific task and purpose in mind (W 9-10.4).

We'll share a few examples before transitioning to our look back at the poetry of Walt Whitman, giving students a chance to present their ideas clearly, concisely, and persuasively, so that the other students can follow their reasoning (SL 9-10.4)

As with all Daily Holidays, my objective is to build a sense of community and trust in the classroom as they students share their ideas and react to each other. 


Poetic Review: A Look Back At Whitman's "I Hear America"

20 minutes

I ask students to take out and re-read Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" (I reminded students yesterday to make sure they have the poems with them today). While students are re-reading the poems, I post the notes (I Hear America Notes 1I Hear America Notes 2) from our evidence-based conversation about the poem (See "Free Verse and Figurative Language: Understanding Whitman"),  by referring back to this conversation, I ensure students don't think of the lesson as "in a vacuum" but rather part of an on-going, whole-text view of American literature. 

As a mini-lecture, I review the notes we took on Whitman's poem, particularly how the details of the worker's "voices" contribute to the idea of American identity, and I ask students to identify, "What is Whitman saying about America as a whole?" (RL 9-10.2); I also address the students' observation from the discussion: that Whitman seems to be expressing the American Dream. 

Students are working with a class-crafted definition of the American dream, drawn from their own brainstorm and text-based, researched definitions. Due to the various forms the Dream has taken, I have indicated to students that it has evolved through the years, but they provided these answers to the question "What is the American Dream?" during our introduction to "The Great Gatsby" (see "American Dreams and Money Nightmares: Themes in 'The Great Gatsby'"). We review these in class today:

1. In its initial form, the "American Dream" indicated an ability to start from nothing, and work one's way up to wealth and success. When students provided this definition, I noted the similarities between this definition and the Puritan Work Ethic we previously addressed (see "More Than Turkey Legs and Buckled Hats: A Background on Puritan Plain Style Poetry"). 

2. Following the Second World War, the American dream came to be viewed as the house in the suburbs, 2.5 children per family, station wagon, housewife, and a pet dog vision of America.  

3. The hope that through our hard work, our children can have a better life than we did.  

When we addressed these three steps in the evolution of the American Dream initially, the students concluded that the first definition they provided was the closest to Fitzgerald's idea behind Jay Gatsby.

Today, I ask students to draw from that definition as they connect Whitman's view of the American Dream and F. Scott Fitzgerald's portrayal in "The Great Gatsby". "The Great Gatsby" is the central text around which the previous three weeks have been centered.

In this comparative discussion, students analyze how these two works express the subject of the American Dream in both poetry and prose (RL 9-10.7), as well as challenge them to present their ideas clearly and logically so their connections between the two are clear. 

Evidence of student learning is informally assessed by their participation and engagement in the conversation; I take note of the students' observations in order to draw from these ideas on future written assessments.  

Poetic Comparisons: The American Dream in Multicultural Poetry

20 minutes

To extend our look at the American Dream, and assess how authors draw on each other when addressing themes (RL 9-10.9), students divide into three groups to read a poem that directly respond to Whitman's poetry (particularly "I Hear America Singing"). Each group is assigned one of the poems to discuss. Students are given handouts with the three following poems on them:

Angela De Hoyos' "To Walt Whitman" 

Langston Hughes' "I, Too"

Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Walt Whitman"

As students read the poems and collaborate within the group, they are asked to look for:

1. specific textual evidence (RL 9-10.1) that supports how the idea of the American Dream, starting from nothing and working one's way up to wealth and success, may be addressed or alluded to in the poem (RL 9-10.2)

2. specific textual evidence (RL 9-10.1) that addresses how each of these poems draws on or reacts to the message in Whitman's "I Hear American Singing" (RL 9-10.9)

These directions are included on the "'I, Too' React 'To Walt Whitman'" handout (pages 1-2 and 4page 3 Neruda).

Students are to read, annotate, and hold a discussion of the poem within their groups, with a focus on these two ideas, specifically drawing evidence from the text. As students in these "expert groups" discuss, I circulate the room, calling upon them to provide their ideas about the poems, and the evidence they can draw on to back up their arguments. These discussions address perspectives differing from many of the students' own experiences, as the poets represent minority groups (Native America, African American, and Latino, respectively).  Within the discussions, students are called upon to qualify or justify and their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented (SL 9-10.1d).

After fifteen minutes or so of reading and discussion, I ask the six groups to come back to their regular seats, and share if they feel the poet would agree with Whitman's ideas in "I Hear America Singing," or disagree, and one line from the poem that supports their point of view. Aside from providing a capstone for today and bridge to tomorrow, this allows me to get a feel for the students' understanding, and foreshadow what we will be doing tomorrow, as students split into groups of three to address the poems and report to students who have not read their poems.

As with the above section, evidence of student learning is informally assessed by their participation and engagement in the conversation; I take note of the students' observations in order to draw from these ideas on future written assessments. Students will also be asked to hand in one copy of the groups' notes, in order to provide me with evidence of learning.

By completing this activity as a jigsaw, with each student responsible for one poet, the students are both able to learn collaboratively and become individual experts. By teaching this poet's works to his their peers, the students reinforce their own learning and take ownership, both of the material and of their peers' learning. Because it allows for focused mastery of material, jigsawing tends to increase student buy-in and student enthusiasm as well as understanding. 

When analyzing themes on the final exam, students will be able to draw not only from "The Great Gatsby," but from these poems as well to support their analysis. 

Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up and Reminders, Is The Dream Dead?

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I provide students with copies of a reflection to complete for homework: one question, "Is the American Dream 'dead'? Drawing from Whitman's "I Hear America Singing", "The Great Gatsby", and the poem read in class today, as well as your own experiences, please address your opinions on the condition of the American Dream."  Students are tackling this question in order to develop a deeper understanding of one of the primary themes of the novel, evaluate Fitzgerald's own perspective on the American dream, and judge the continuing value and enduring legacy of the novel. This question emphasizes drawing from the texts in order for students to reflect and support their analysis (W 9-10.9), as well as providing practice using valid reasoning and sufficient evidence to support their claims (W 9-10.1