Students are well into reading The Things They Carried. Specifically, they are about 1/3 of the day done with this novel in the chapter titled “How To Tell A True War Story.” By this time, O’Brien has painted a picture of war that can allow students to think about specific aspects of war. What I mean is that by now the novel has prompted my students, as readers, to consider the mixed emotions of soldiers on the ground, the difficulty of deciding to go fight, and the lasting images that the character has chosen to make part of a war story. It is an intimate and honest portrayal of one man trying to make sense of the difficult experience of war. Today’s assignment is meant to get students to think about this.
I explain today’s assignment, which I am calling “Perspectives of War.” I explain that this is a powerful book that presents a particular experience of war and that in the details the character, and thus author, chooses to make part of the retelling of this experience, we can perceive a particular perspective of war. To figure out the perspective of war O’Brien is illustrating, they are to select specific elements that communicate this perspective, such as I explain in this video. My purpose is to get students to pay close attention to textual evidence in the novel in order to make conclusions about the author’s point, important Common Core skills. Additionally, I want them to identify the selected evidence as either character, plot point, specific language or writing strategy because it is also important in developing control over language. They are to leave the center blank until after they have gathered all textual details because they are to use the details selected to verbalize the perspective of war in one or two sentences in the center.
As students begin to work, I stop at each table and check their work. Some are having a difficult time whereas others have several items on their chart already. The difficulty has to do with making sense of the author’s point when the author has not explicitly stated it. I am asking students to be in tune with what O’Brien is sharing with them and make conclusions. I interrupt students to share a few good items I’ve seen on some charts. This can provide a good model for those struggling with this assignment. Some of these items include the following:
I explain that these details can help us understand the difficulty of choosing to go fight in this war as well as the relationships that developed between the men. These samples help students understand what is expected on these charts and they get back to work.
I now want students to collaborate to make sense of the details they selected. I explain that one of the things a good reader does is examine a group of powerful details from the text and make conclusions about important points the author is communicating. I ask students to engage in a discussion where they do exactly this. Specifically, I want them to collaborate to verbalize some central statements O’Brien is making about war through the details he chose to include in this story. What I hope is that students will be able to perceive the emotional and psychological toll on soldiers who fought in this war. I also hope they can think about the challenging position of being called to participate in this war that had been developing under extremely questionable circumstances but whose opposition carried equally challenging consequences. To verbalize O’Brien’s commentary on war, it is necessary to understand that an antiwar sentiment is communicated through the vivid images and intimate experiences of the men in the character’s platoon. This is not an easy task for inexperienced readers/writers like my students. I listen in on their conversations and sure enough, they are slow to begin to write on their chart.
Some groups are able to verbalize interesting points O’Brien is making about war, such as this group. Others are able to make more simple statements, such as this one. Others struggled more and ended up stating things that sound more like summaries, such as this one. However, they were all able to select quotes that are very significant in the story.
Students have also been working to make sure that the details they selected represent a variety of the list I gave them: character, plot point, specific language and writing strategy. This is good practice in becoming aware of how author’s use language and I want to highlight this. For this I tell students that each group is getting two large sticky notes and they are to select two items from two different categories and share them by writing each one on a sticky note posting both on the board under the respective category. This is what students shared. I read the different examples on the board aloud to students and ask them to help me verify that each item shared was posted under the accurate category. This is meant to help students better understand these categories, especially the more difficult one, writing strategy.
I give students the rest of the period, to move on to get some independent reading done.