This lesson is the first of a two-lesson sequence, teaching students to "mine" their "expertise" books for an argument to "call their own."
As I have alluded to thus far in the later half of my course, I have amended many of the lessons from the first semester of this school year. One of the great benefits of my course is its two-semester schedule -- that is I have a new crop of seniors each semester. Because I see new students every 18 weeks but my commitment to BL is for the school year, I have taken the opportunity to extensively re-work aspects of my course over these last several weeks and months.
One of the most important changes I made for spring 2014 was to the Book Review unit. I decided to radically alter my Independent Reading expectations and have the new expectations and requirements anticipate a written assessment in a more extended and thoughtful way. Rather than require students to read (nearly) any book and then write a review about it, I require students to read a specific book and use this book as the underpinning of the long, researched essay for this semester's course.
For this project, then, I selected 55 award-winning titles. I created a spreadsheet of the winners of The National Book Critic Circle, The National Book Award, The Pulitzer Prize for History, and the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction from the last 13 years (2000 - 2013), and I required students to acquire (Amazon, Half-Price Books, Powell's, iBooks, etc.) the text of their choosing. Their independent reading choice is known, affectionately, as their "expertise book."
After they have their book in hand, I give a generous number of "free reading" (or SSR) periods, as they read these books (some of them over 600 pp. long) for the first six - seven weeks of the course.
After I have introduced the "list of prizewinners" to students, I spend a few minutes at the websites associated with the prizes. Here is the set of links I use:
Then I spend a few minutes browsing different titles on the list at WorldCat, the world's largest online catalog!
After I clarify the sources of information available (as well as point out the book-review-search-engine on my blog) I "turn them loose" to peruse the internet and select a book. I give them ample class time to begin this process, and I set a realistic deadline for obtaining their "expertise book." I insist that they have their "own" copy -- be it purchased or borrowed from a library (and I think this "requirement" is suitable for high school seniors).
The day before they must "bring their book to class" for me to see, I have them fill-out this Google Form to log their choices.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT: THIS SECTION OF THIS "LESSON" SHOULD COME AFTER
THE PERIOD OF SEVERAL DAYS IF NOT TWO - THREE WEEKS; YOU WANT STUDENTS
TO HAVE HAD SOME TIME TO ACQUIRE THEIR "EXPERTISE BOOKS" AND
READ THE "OPENING MATTER" AS A HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
On the day before this lesson I distribute the "Introduction" to Adam Hochschild's most excellent To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, a critically acclaimed, narrative history of World War I. (It is really a terrific book by the way ...). I make photo copies for my students, and I point out that the entire intro. is on Google Books. I expect them to read Hochschild's introduction for homework.
I've selected this book to serve as a model because it is precisely the kind of book that students will more than likely select from the "list of prizewinners." While a few of the books on my list are memoirs and biographies, most of them utilize the full array of scholarly apparatus -- "opening matter," a table of contents, source notes, and a bibliography, etc. And this is, well, precisely the point ... exposure to a text that is like the texts they are expected to use for research the following school year (as freshmen in college).
However, the Hochschild is not on the "list of prizewinners," so no freebies! (Although, I should mention using examples from your own students texts' as you proceed is more than simply helpful -- it is also practical!) I try as I might to pretend that I am a "student" when I model the processes for this unit, and for this activity I use the document camera and "walk through" a marked-up/annotated introduction -- that is I demonstrate how I have been an "expert" reader with annotations and underlining, etc. Generally speaking there should be some light discussion regarding the beginnings of Hochschild's arguments and teacher-perceptions; after all, they have read the same material.
With the remaining time before the bell, I have students start their own outlines, using a Google Doc template they copy. I will review these outlines with them tomorrow, as this homework will feed the next day's lesson ...