The great Maya Angelou left this world yesterday, and so I wanted to figure out a way to pay homage to her without departing from our reading of Travels With Charley. In light of what we will be reading from the text today--Steinbeck's heroic behavior during Hurricane Donna--I have selected Angelou's poem "Life Doesn’t Frighten Me " to introduce today's lesson.
Before I distribute a copy of the poem to each student, I ask if any of them know of who we lost yesterday, in the world of literature. Knowing my students, I expect that some will be aware, and as I then hand out copies of the poem, we discuss what we know of Maya Angelou.
I then explain that I have found an oral reading of the poem by Angelou herself, and that as we listen to her reading, they should follow along, using the lines on the right of their copies for any notations they are compelled to make.
After we have listened to her reading, we will spend a few minutes discussing and analyzing the poem and its message(s).
After the discussion of the poem, I transition back to Travels With Charley by explaining that in today's reading, we will discover that just before Steinbeck sets out on his journey, he must face Hurricane Donna, a hurricane that ripped up the eastern coast in the late summer of 1960.
Before we begin reading, however, I show my students this clip of footage of Hurricane Donna, in order to help them visualize the effects of a hurricane (we may know earthquakes, but very few of us have experienced a hurricane out here).
From the clip, we then move into reading the section from chapter one of Travels With Charley that begins "Labor Day approached, the day of truth . . ." (page 12 the Penguin paperback edition). I allow student volunteers to do the reading, trading off with them as necessary, if the volunteer pool is sparse today (which may happen, in that we have our observant visitor among us . . .).
When we get to the paragraph that begins to describe the hurricane ("The wind struck on the moment we were told it would . . ."), I instruct my students to pick up their pencils and to list the verbs that Steinbeck uses to describe the hurricane on the blank lines remaining on their copies of the Angelou poem. I read this paragraph, in order to free up my students to write.
At the conclusion of the paragraph, I ask a student volunteer to read back the verbs he/she has listed. We then spend a few minutes discussing how successful Steinbeck is in describing the hurricane, particularly in light of what we have just viewed in the actual footage. This gives me an opportunity to remind my students, as I am fond of doing, that verbs will often make the difference between good writing and superior writing. "Let your verbs do most of the work" is one of my familiar sayings.
We read on to the end of the chapter, at which time I pose the question of "why" to my students: why has Steinbeck included this scene in his book, when he could have just as easily started his tale after the hurricane. I expect this discussion to explore the idea that Steinbeck shows a sense of fearlessness in the face of the unpredictable, which sets a tone going forward into his journey. As the discussion veers in this direction, I can then swing back to connecting the text to the poem, and the idea of life not frightening Steinbeck--not at all!
If time permits, my students will then be allowed to return to the informative essay drafting that began in the previous lesson.
With or without time to devote to continued drafting, I will distribute a copy of the rubric I will be using to assess the actual shoes my students are creating to go along with their informative essays. I have kept this rubric a simple as possible, in that it applies to a physical product as opposed to a piece of writing. Try as I might to come up with five categories, for an even ten points possible in each category, I simply could not think of anything else beyond what I have included in the final rubric (this after consulting both my students and the resource teacher who spends a good deal of time in my classroom). Thus, I believe I have weighted the final four categories as appropriately as possible.