Today is a big day for my students, in that they will be presenting their shoes projects for their characters from To Kill a Mockingbird. The seed of this project was first planted in this lesson, then formally assigned here.
I have decided to pave the way into their presentations with a poem by Ted Kooser called "In The Basement of the Goodwill Store." This is a poem that both superficially and thematically connects to today's focus: many of the shoes my students will present today did indeed come from Goodwill, but more importantly, there are suggestions of empathy and of acknowledging alternate perspectives inherent in the poem that should set the stage nicely for my students' presentations.
I distribute a copy of the poem to each student and ask a student volunteer to read it out loud to the whole group. I then allow my students to work as table partners as they read through the poem again, using the lines I have included down the right side to interact with the poem. At the bottom, they will then do their best to identify the usual suspects--voice, tone, and mood--along with the additional task of articulating a theme they detect in the poem.
After student partners have had a chance to explore the poem together, and before we convene as a whole group to share thoughts, I play an audio recording of Ted Kooser reading his poem. Whenever available, I like to provide the oral readings of poetry by the poet himself/herself for my students, in that to hear a poem read with the intended cadence, inflection, emphasis, etc. from the poet often creates more room for interpretation.
On a side note, I have also tried the approach of student discussion around a poem before they listen to an author read his/her own work, with the intent to explore the validations and discrepancies that may be present in my students' interpretations. Both methods have value, depending on a lesson's focus.
After the recording, we come together as a whole group to listen to student volunteers share their determinations. Because Kooser's work is known for its accessibility, I anticipate that my students will not be too terribly flummoxed by the poem. The images are clear and direct, and they should have an easy time visualizing the scene he depicts.
They may have trouble identifying the shift in the second stanza, or at least with articulating the function of the shift, where the second person "you" is introduced. I may need to coax them along with this stanza, since it is that awareness of becoming the old man and of empathy in general that will provide the segue I am hoping for as my students transition into the presentation of their shoes.
One more thing: I love this poem, and I do not expect that we will have time to fully explore all that it has to offer in the manner that I am using it today. For any teacher who shares this same admiration for the poem, I would encourage the idea of using it in a lesson where it can be more fully analyzed and discussed, where all of its themes can be more fully exposed.
Thus, on the heels of the poem's analysis (pun intended), my students should be properly prepared to share their shoes with the whole group.
I have decided to hold council around their sharing, rather than require a formal presentation from each student, because I believe that the intimacy (for lack of a better word) of council is more in keeping with the heart of this project. Council is more about sharing than about presenting, and I want to capitalize on how much my students love this text and the characters in it without the added stress of standing and speaking in front of a whole group.
I have a small tennis shoe (a keychain, actually) that we will use as the talking piece. Before we begin, I briefly review the structure of council, emphasizing that the only person speaking at any given time is the one who is holding the talking piece. I ask that my students limit their sharing to as close to two minutes as possible, so that everyone has the opportunity to speak. I instruct them not to read their essays to the group, but rather to tell us who their character is and tell us about the "hows" and "whys" of their shoes.
For those few students who may be without their projects today, for whatever reason, I instruct them to briefly tell us about their shoes when the talking piece is passed to them. In this way, they can still receive their credit for today's council. I explain that each student will receive participation points for sharing today, reminding them that their actual shoes and accompanying essay will be subject to grading rubrics, which were provided here and here.
I ask for a student volunteer to begin, provide that student with the talking piece, and council begins. When the first student has finished sharing, he/she decides which direction to pass the talking piece. The shoe council will take us right up to the end of the period.
Quick logistical note: You will need to be prepared for the deluge of shoes on this day. I had to bring in two extra folding tables from home so that the shoes can remain in a relatively safe place until I have a chance to grade them. At the close of the period, I instruct my students to assemble their essays with the rubrics attached and place them under their shoes, so that they do not get separated.
For images of sample projects, click accordingly below: