Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Literature Groups...Finally

For a long time, I've wanted to explore the world of literature groups (or cirlces. It sounds more grown up as groups to me). I decided to take the plunge with our American drama.

My mentor Kristy Louden and I decided that we would go out on a limb and teach A Streetcar Named Desire this year. Kristy had never taught it before, so we decided to try it out together.

As we began discussing how we wanted to go about teaching the play, one of the most important things that we wanted to do was to create a standout unit, one that is very different from anything either of us had ever really done. And, maybe more importantly, different from anything any other 11th grade teachers were doing. If we were going to go out on a limb and break away from the norm, we wanted to do it the right way.

When we dug into the play a bit deeper, we saw the many different views or lenses that we could teach through. And we thought. And couldn't decide. And made lists. And scratched things off. And finally, we decided that, well, we just couldn't pick one lens.

Finally, it hit Kristy, and our focus literature groups were born.

There are many differnt avenues that we could have gone through with these literature focus groups, but we decided on the 6 that we viewed as the most prominant in the play: feminism, patriarchy, symbolism, language, historical/cultural influences and contexts, and conflict. All of these focuses ease into each other eventually, and they seemed to make a lot of sense based on what would interest our students and what their greatest struggles are.

I created the unit based on lessons from Kelly Gallagher's Deeper Reading, my teaching bible. Each group had four activities, with each activity (minus the fourth) being different than the other groups' activities. Basically, there were 19 activities to create for the groups. I wanted the activites to hone in on the focus of each group and build upon one another. The most difficult part was the placement. Each activity could be so deep that it became difficult to decide which would be the earlier and therefore more superficial of the group's activites. Overall, though, it worked out extremely well.

My students were more drawn into the play than they have been with anything else that they've read this year. I've seen grades improve dramatically. The responsibility factor is really affecting them too. Students feel a connection with their group members -- there are relationships forming that haven't bloomeed all year! -- and they feel responsible for seeig their group members succeed.

I won't say that it's because the unit was well-written (although I am proud of it). A Streetcar Named Desire is a fanstastic play that speaks to all ages, races, and cultures. It's a soap opra drama that students eat up like nothing I have ever seen. Sure, there are some that weren't drawn in, but watching the hands shoot up to read aloud is enough for me.

I'm thrilled that I decided to try literature groups, and I'm so proud of my students for responding in a positive manner. I'm proud of their maturity with each other and the subject matter and their ever-growing responsibility.

Without a doubt, Streetcar has made it into my "keep pile" for the year.

I'm considering putting up the unit on TpT, so keep an eye out if you're interested!

Keep on reading,
Ms. Z

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