Students have been working on an essay for “The End of Something.” Part of this work has been done in class, but it is mostly getting done at home. Today, I want students to engage in discussion about their working draft. Discussing their ideas with classmates is extremely useful in helping students develop their ideas. This will be especially helpful since they are working on this essay mostly at home on their own. My hope is that they will walk away from the discussion today with clearer ideas they can implement in their essay as they continue working on it.
I give students a summary of what we are doing in class today. I tell them they are going to work in silence, then engage in discussion, then write in silence. I explain that the first session in silence is for them to gather their thoughts and be ready for small group discussions, that the discussion is meant to help them strengthen their working argument, and that the last session in silence is for them to implement realizations/clarifications/etc. from small group discussions. I give them this summary so they understand the purpose of each activity and are better prepared to take full advantage of each session. These steps coincide with the Common Core's expectations of discussions.
I explain to students that they are going to use the discussion to test their working argument for the essay on “The End of Something.” I let them know I am giving them 5 minutes to prepare. During these 5 minutes, they are to read over their working draft and think about the ideas they want to share with their classmates and the questions they want to ask. I highlight the importance of selecting comments and questions that can help them successfully finish their essay.
I give students 5 minutes to gather their thoughts in silence.
Students are seated in small groups and they will be engaging in a discussion with their group members. I give students directions about what they are expected to do during the discussion: present ideas, use each other’s brains, test their working draft.
I give them 5 minutes to discuss. The purpose of the discussion is to give students an opportunity to discuss their ideas and increase their chances of writing a stronger argument. This is one important value of talk, which is why Speaking and Listening is an important part of the Common Core. This student is discussing the organization of her paper and getting feedback, thus taking advantage of this discussion.
I ask them to write in silence the rest of the period and to make sure this writing session is guided by any realization or clarification or feedback that came out of their discussion. I remind them of the importance of editing by telling them, “Editing made a big difference in the paper on the quote about solitude. Do the same in this essay.”
While students work in silence, I conference with individual students as needed. Most of the confusion students are experiencing has to do with the actual task of drawing connections between the decline of Hortons Bay and the end of Nick and Marjorie’s relationship. To do this task successfully, students have to understand that the connection is not literal. They have to think figuratively and this is often difficult for my students. I am reading thesis statements that argue that the shut down of the mill led to their break up. This is not accurate and it reveals that in the face of confusion, such students are attempting literal interpretations that can only be supported if they ignore certain details, such as the fact that the mill closed down a decade before Nick and Marjorie’s break up. I continue to remind students that the connection is figurative and that they have to think about the language Hemingway used to describe the decline of the town as well as the image we are to conjure in our minds of what the town used to be and is no longer and apply this to the way he describes the end of the relationship. I also encourage them to take risks and give themselves the freedom to make whatever argument they want as long as it is backed up by the text.