Unit Title. I am alluding to a recent work (link) by two of my mentors in the profession, Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm, as they turn their attention towards the issue of reading for pleasure. It's a very worthwhile book to get, and I sense that they will be doing more work on the topic in coming years.
Choice Books. We want our students to become independent, lifelong learners. When it comes to literature, much work has been going on in the past ten years with de-centering the English curriculum from purely "covering texts" or even addressing a common text, but rather allowing additional choice books for students. I feel that choice is motivating for students, and there is a plethora of strong young adult fiction available through such book lists as the Abe Lincoln Awarded books and others. In this short unit, students will:
1.) Select a book, typically with collaboration with 2-4 classmates.
2.) Read it independently (read: no class time on this, particularly due to timing at end of year and due to assessment rationale, see below).
3.) Create a summarizing and analytical poster talk.
4.) Write a comparison paragraph between the book and movie--at least a key scene or two.
5.) Create a digital story project in which they: write a script, select appropriate visual representation, and edit these elements into a final production.
Choice Books as Assessment. However, the shift to the Common Core seems to avoid much attention to the affective domain in general. For one thing, the affective domain can be difficult to assess; for another, focusing on simple texts with simplistic language can hold students back. That said, I do think it's possible to use a choice reading unit as both a fun diversion from the norm AND as a means to assess the types of skills that students have been developing with support in more structured/centered units of study. If we want students to be able to analyze character development (RL.9-10.3), then having them analyze a character in a book that is independently chosen and read would be a viable assessment of this work over time. The same is true of thematic analysis (RL.9-10.2) and the use of figurative language (RL.9-10.4).
The Issue of Representation. Too, we have done some interesting work this year in examining representation--that is, representing the same story in multiple media (RL.9-10.7). The students read American Born Chinese as well as did a unit on writing about art. Now in this unit, we are exploring the issue of representation by comparing the book and the movie for each story, and thus I have constrained the list by including books that have been made into a movie. Thankfully, many of these are books that I have already read (not all), and many have had recent film adaptations.
Text Complexity. What is most encouraging to me is that the list of books that we are exploring are all very substantial and challenging. If we are looking to have students explore increasingly complex texts--by the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently--then having them read books like The Help, The Great Gatsby, and Insurgent with very little support will reveal their ability to master texts in an environment that is more like college and post-academic life.
** Note: lesson image comes from Wikimedia Commons by Rudy Eats, originally published on Flickr.com and available under Creative Commons License.
To the Library. A standard move in my classes is to have students select choice books in the school's library, and I work collaboratively with the school's librarian to select books that will be of high levels of interest and challenge. I often have the students support each other in autonomous groups, conducting Literature Circles Discussion. The goals of these discussions is to give students enough structure to support each other in setting their own goals in getting the reading accomplished successfully.
For today's lesson, will differentiate: those students who make a quick selection will go on to begin the discussion questions, and those who need more time to select will have that available. I am not doing a hard assessment of the responses to the questions, but the focus of them is to set the context for the students so that they successfully enter the story world.
Book/Movie List. On this particular day, the librarian had already curated a list of 10 or so books that also have been made into a movie, including The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit, The Help, Divergent (we used the second book, Insurgent because the movie is forthcoming, and trailers and clips were already available online). A week or so before we entered the library, I put the list in front of the class to gauge initial interest, and from that list, I asked the librarian to prepare a book talk on about 7 of them. Incidentally, I also discovered that one of my students was willing to read Mark Helprin's long book, A Winter's Tale, since she had some familiarity from the movie, so I did add a title or two to the list based on student requests.
Why this type of list? I have landed on this project for several reasons. First, one of my own sons at home was talking with a friend about "an amazing English project where you got to read the book AND see the movie and compare them!!" and it got me thinking how fun this might be and how much thought it could encourage about representation--moving across various media, such as graphic novels (two of them), film, novels, essays, and spoken word--that has been such a focal point this year. I am curious to hear about how you structure your independent reading assignments, how you set the stage for students to enjoy what they read, challenge themselves, and create responses to the literature that shows their complex thinking. If you have time, please leave me a comment on this lesson or unit!
The Prompt. For this type of prompt, I often give the students some stems that help them to access the storyworld that they are reading about, as in this First Impresions Prompts, page 2 in particular. For today's prompt, I simply asked the students, "What counts in your storyworld, and how is your character faring?"
Why this prompt. By asking this prompt, I am looking to assess how the students are doing with a relatively independent reading of a text that may be challenging. The students have selected books like The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit, The Help, Insurgent, Alice in Wonderland, and a few others. They will have group members to bounce ideas off of, and they will have the movie for each book as a point of comparison (this time around, that was the construct for book selection, since we are addressing the issue of representation in literary reading, RL.9-10.7). However, for the most part, this final unit is meant to assess their abilities to read and make meaning on their own.
Timing is Flexible (best done 2-3 weeks in advance). The students will write for a few minutes and, if time, share out with their groups. Also, this segment of the lesson can be done two to three weeks prior to the unit going up. I typically will let them do books selection and these initial writings in advance of the project or literature circles that will be meeting. The risk of doing this is that some students handle the text complexity (RL.9-10.10) quite well, accessing the storyworld and reading ahead. Others get lost and are unable to navigate the world of the text and fall behind (i.e. the independent nature of this unit reveals the gaps that are still there). As a result, want to provide some support and timing that will help students to encourage each other but also that will still put the main responsibility on the students.