Thursday, November 14, 2013

Characters are a lot like icebergs...

My wonderful mentor introduced me to a teacher-author named Kelly Gallagher. Ever since picking up his  book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, my life has been changed. Okay, I know that sounds corny and over the top, but I'm not kidding. I've become re-energized as an educator and inspired as a learner.
The second book that I read by Gallagher is titled Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Not only is this book one of the most inspiring that I've ever read, but it also gives a unique and flexible framework for teaching difficult texts.

This is the framework directly taken from the book. Gallagher argues that we need to take students through multiple steps in order for them to truly comprehend difficult texts. These steps begin with framing the text and move on to metaphorical response and reflective response.

Now, I can hear you all questioning that method as aligned with the Common Core. I would argue, however, that personal reflection can work with the Common Core if we insist on backing up opinions with textual evidence. One of the major deficiencies that I have seen with my students, personally, is their ability to come up with an opinion that is supported by factual evidence. In order for them to succeed in honing these skills, we need to give them opportunities to do so in the classroom with low stakes.

I decided to give this framework a shot when teaching The Great Gatsby. I started by framing the story just like I normally would. We watched the A&E documentary Fitzgerald: The Great American Dreamer and did some research on the 1920s. We learned a bit of vocabulary to help us understand what bootleggers may be. We hit the basics.

By the time that I got to metaphorical response, I was heading back to Gallagher's book in order to get some inspiration. The Iceberg Graphic Organizer seemed like the perfect tool to use.

Basically, the graphic organizer consists of an iceberg with the majority of the iceberg underwater and a small potion on top (just like a real iceberg looks). I started by showing my students a picture of a real iceberg and how the majority of the iceberg is actually underwater. We discussed how people can be like this. We see them as innocent angels, but under the surface they are something else entirely. I urged students to think of characters in this way as well. We discussed the changes that we have seen in Gatsby throughout the book and how this relates to the iceberg graphic, and we were off.

Students were first asked to think of 4 characteristics of Gatsby --2 "seen" characteristics, those above the surface, and 2 "unseen" characteristics, those below the surface.

Next, to up the metaphorical game, students turned these characteristics into metaphors. I asked them what physical object had this same characteristic as Gatsby. Students created a list that I looked over before they began drawing.

They drew the iceberg with the corresponding "seen" and "unseen" metaphors that they created. I had some beautiful things turned in to me. There's one in particular that I'm extremely proud of (see below.) He even added the green light in a lighthouse!


Students were also required to turn in a rationale. I created a chart in which they gave textual evidence for each of their metaphors. I had them fill in blanks such as "Gatsby is like a _________ because they share _________ characteristic." Then, they had to refer directly back to the text in order to back up this assertion. Where does the text show that Gatsby has this characteristic? What does Gatsby do or say to make you believe that Gatsby has this characteristic?

All in all, it was a successful activity. I think that students were challenged during the assignment. They had to evaluate Gatsby's character on their own, create metaphors, and refer directly to the text to defend their assertion.

-Ms. Z

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