Last class period, all students were supposed to read our remaining two Imagistic poems, The Red Wheelbarrow and The Great Figure. While reading, they were supposed to thoroughly consider what kind of imagery they had in their minds and what kind of tone the author was trying to portray. To analyze these poems, we will discuss these scenic images as a whole group with the following series of questions:
We'll continue our study of Modern poetry by looking at T.S. Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock." Before students take a look at this poem, they will respond to a few questions to preview the poem. First, I'll ask students what kinds of things they might expect to see in a poem titled in this way (like content, purpose, etc.). Usually, they expect something gushy and sappy to a partner (like a sonnet). I love this activity, because when we start reading the poem, they're immediately taken aback that's it's completely the opposite of what they were expecting! I love the irony. (Again, we're teachers, so we have to love the small stuff!) Then, I will ask them what their initial impression of a character called "J. Alfred Prufrock" might be. Most students get this part right and report that he'd be kind of stuffy, formal, dorky, etc. Finally, I'll ask them to consider how Eliot's chosen name impacts the poem, even based on the title. Students should be able to connect that THIS man's "lovesong" might be a little different than your typical Robin Thicke variety!
Next, we will scan over the text of "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock." I will ask students what the first thing they notice is, and they will (obviously) report the opening in a foreign language. They will identify this as Italian (or I will tell them, although most students taking Spanish can recognize this as similar to Spanish, but slightly different), and I will tell them that it comes from Dante's Inferno. Before we move on, we need to talk about this author choice (since it's not even translated for us...how rude, Eliot!). Why might he make a choice like this? How could it help your reader to build meaning from your poem? (Students can identify that this is an allusion--yay!--and will explain that even though they can't necessarily read it, they can explain that allusions add the meaning of the original work to the secondary work. This will likely lead to a discussion about what the plot & idea of Dante's Inferno was, so I will ask a student to briefly explain the story to their peers. Most students at my school are familiar with this text, but if not, I will play the video summary below. Please be aware it does use the word "asses" during the explanation and use it at your discretion. Some classes can handle it; some classes cannot. Check your school policy or talk to your administrator for clarification on your school's policy.)
After the video, I will ask students how the connection with this text impacts their predictions for the tone and content of this "lovesong." Obviously, this makes the piece darker and possibly suggests that Prufrock is equating his journey for love as a journey through hell. For further clarification on this opener, we will also evaluate the translation of the text, which is spoken from Guido's (a prisoner in Hell) perspective in response to Dante's request to hear his story:
Students will paraphrase this text and suggest how it may be related to "Prufrock." They should be able to connect that this opener definitely suggests that his "lovesong" is not happy, but is in fact painful and seemingly-unending.
After this prereading, we will begin analyzing the poem stanza-by-stanza as a class. To ensure that everyone participates, I will track comments and answers to questions using ClassDojo. See the resources for the questions and findings from this discussion.
After our discussion about Prufrock, we will continue challenging ourselves with text that REQUIRES thinking to understand! For this task, we will read "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," but before we start students will need a bit of background knowledge. First, we will talk about what "jilting" means. I'll ask students what they think the word means or if they have ever heard it before. Shockingly, most students have NOT heard this word! I will still want them to take a guess at the meaning, however, and I will use it in context to help them formulate an understanding of the word. Then, we will confirm that definition with Dictionary.com's definition. While viewing the definition, we will also spend a little bit of time looking at the origin of the word, considering how it evolved from a woman's name, to a derogatory word, to a verb. It's kind of a horrible story, but students LOVE it. Additionally, it provides a great instance to meet the Common Core requirement of looking at the evolution of language, which is something that most students never consider. After looking a "jilting," we will also consider any other words that have morphed or are morphing in meaning or use. We live in a time where language is changing rapidly (especially due to technology), so it shouldn't be difficult to come up with examples. My favorite example is the word "rewind," because it's still a word that is used frequently, but NOTHING is actually being "rewound." Back in MY day (ha!), tapes really WERE rewound! Students laugh at this subtle change, but it usually results in a greater degree of engagement in the discussion.
Next, we will review "stream of consciousness" as a literary device, which is heavily used within Modernism and this story. Students will recall that "stream of consciousness" is freely writing whatever comes to mind without concern for the audience's ability to necessarily follow every piece. They will also recall that this type of writing helps readers to better understand characters, because it's coming exactly from the mind of the character. (If they struggle to recall this, I'll give them some help with this link!) To demonstrate this stream of consciousness idea, I will toss out a word like "apple" and students will share the first (APPROPRIATE!) word that comes to mind. If they can, they will also explain why this particular association may exist, though many cannot consciousness point out the connection within their subconscious. I will do this with a handful of words, pausing for discussion each time, then we will consider ways to improve reading comprehension of texts written in a stream of consciousness format. Obviously, this format allows for a "direct window" into characters, but as we all know, sometimes windows are foggy! If students are left to their own reading devices with this story, MANY will quit. I've seen it. So, taking this step to PLAN for the difficulties they will encounter is critical to helping them FACE those difficulties. To do this, I will ask students one simple question: If someone where going to decipher YOUR stream of consciousness, what would they have to do to better understand it? (Phrasing this in a way that it's about THEM, not an author or character, helps them consider and own this question better! They will happily share about themselves, then translate that to the author, but the other way around can be like pulling teeth!) Common student answers (and wonderful reading tips!) are:
With these tips, students will embark on the next section of the period!
During the remaining 20 minutes of class, students will read "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" independently. While reading, they will need to write down questions or comments they have for discussion next time. I want to give them this time in class to get started on this project, because I know it will be difficult for them. Getting a grip on this text while they are in a supported environment will help to ensure that they go home and actually FINISH reading it. If students express collaborative exasperation (which has happened before), I will pause the class and remind them of their own reading suggestions. We will also list the characters with relationships if they suggest that is a trouble spot as well. It will depend heavily on the particular class, so I will play this by ear!
Next time, students will come to class with questions in hand, ready to dive into discussion about this story! I am still working through grading research papers, so I am really limiting the amount of pencil-and-paper work I have to grade until I get those done. Class discussion will largely substitute daily grades here, so I will be sure this change is explicitly known by students and that I track participation with tools like ClassDojo.