Today is the last day we spend with Hemingway’s short story “The End of Something.” The last thing we are doing with this story is holding a discussion. Besides developing speaking and listening skills, this discussion can help them with the essay they have been writing about this story. The essay is due in a few days and students are working on finishing and editing at home. Today’s discussion will hopefully give them more things to discuss in their essays. Specifically, I want students to think more about Nick and Marjorie's relationship. For instance, through inferences, students can get a better picture of the disillusion and loss Nick is likely experiencing since he fell out of love with Marjorie.
Students are going to formulate questions about the story during the first part of this lesson. The questions they formulate can help them spark a good discussion in the second part of this lesson. I am using this strategy today to get students to come to the discussion prepared, which is a Common Core expectation. Specifically, formulating good questions about the text can help students turn their attention to important details. This is because the ability to ask good questions is an important thinking skill. The technique I use requires students to ask as many questions as they can. One happy outcome is that earlier questions lead students to ask more detailed and better questions.
I remind students of the Question Formulation Technique, which they were introduced to in a lesson earlier in the year and which we have practiced several times during the year. This is a QFT Step by Step guide. I explain that they are engaging in this technique today, but in a slightly different way. In the past, they engaged in this technique in small groups of 4 or 5, with one person writing questions formulated by the members of the group. Today, they are formulating questions in pairs and in silence. I briefly remind them of the rules for the Question Formulation Technique.
Once students are in pairs, I ask for one of them to take out a sheet of paper and title it “QFT: The End of Something,” and write both of their names on it. They are to use this paper to formulate questions about the story. The question focus for this session is Nick and Marjorie’s relationship. I make sure it is clear they are to focus questions around this relationship and not on the description of Hortons Bay. This is because the focus of the story is on them and I want them to ask questions about it now to discuss later. I ask them to keep in mind the notes we wrote about modern literature in a previous lesson. Specifically, I point out that in a piece of modern literature we often find characters who are unable to communicate effectively, the author communicates ideas indirectly and it is up to us to fill in the rest through inferences. Formulating questions can help students arrive at accurate inferences. They have already made inferences on the text, but they can definitely explore the story further and gain a deeper understanding of it. Because the ability to ask good questions is an essential thinking skill, the Question Formulation Technique can help students think about the story in more profound ways.
I give students about 10 minutes to engage in the Question Formulation Technique. Students are to work in silence and the questions are to be student-generated so during this time, I just walk around and look over their shoulder to get a sense of the questions they are formulating.
At the end of this question formulating session, I ask students to share some of the best questions they believe they came up with. These are some of the questions they shared:
Did they break up have something to do with remembering the town?
Was the town really that important to Nick?
What does the town have to do with the break?
How come Nick feels like the relationship isn’t fun anymore?
Did Nick and Marjorie have an argument before they went fishing?
Students are now ready to engage in discussion. Their discussion must be guided by the questions they formulated, which is how they prepared for this discussion today. I want to encourage the participation of every single student and I do this today by adding an accountability measure, a recording of each small group discussion. I am asking 5 students in the class to volunteer their smart phone to record the discussions that take place in class today. Early in the school year, I took a quick survey of the technology students own, which revealed that about half of my students own a smart phone so this seemed like a perfectly appropriate request. However, the functionality of this technology is as inconsistent for students as the school technology is for me, so by this time in the school year, several have lost service and we were lucky to get access to five phones. Keep this in mind if you are attempting this activity.
I explain the process to students:
Students sit in groups of 6 or so and each group has one smart phone placed in the middle of the table.
The video camera app on the phone is initiated. They all wonder why video and why not just an audio app. I tell them that I am sure my computer will be able to read their recorded video, but I can’t be sure it can read whatever audio app they have. I tell them they do not need to aim the camera at each other if they don’t want to. They can just let it sit at the center while it records.
As soon as I ask them to begin the discussion, one person hits the record button and they begin discussing.
I remind them of options to open the discussion: they can open discussion with a comment, or a question from the list they produced.
To set purpose I tell them that they need to take advantage of this discussion and see it as an opportunity to better understand the story, which can help them finish their essay.
I give them about 10 minutes to discuss. I walk around and listen in on their discussions. The resulting clips only have audio. Not one group felt comfortable aiming the camera at each other so they aimed it at the ceiling or the desk. Here is a clip of one discussion.
I give students the last few minutes of class to put in some work on the essay they have been working on.
By now, students have brainstormed, discussed and approached “The End of Something” in multiple ways. They should be ready to finish this essay in the next couple of nights. I could set the deadline for tomorrow as it would not be unrealistic to expect a completed essay by tomorrow. However, I know they could benefit from additional time to edit the essay and turn it something in better shape. I give them the weekend to finish it so the deadline is Monday at the beginning of the period.