I am a pre-service teacher, so detailing the class in which I plan to implement this SRE is a bit difficult. Because I’ve never had my own secondary English class, I’ll use my own educational setting as my hypothetical class. The middle school I went to is in Mt. Lebanon, PA, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. The political makeup of the township is mostly Democrat, and the racial makeup is primarily White. Pittsburgh, because of its history as an industrial steel-producing city, is made up of a lot of descendents of Irish and Eastern-European immigrants. Mt. Lebanon is a fairly affluent suburb that directly borders the city, making it more urban than its surrounding counterparts. The average resident is well-educated, so most of my students have parents that value and are invested in their child’s education. I teach 8th grade language arts. The class, which has about 25 students, is 50 minutes long. My classroom is arranged in a modified horseshoe to promote discussion.
My hypothetical class would be made up of approximately equal amounts to boys and girls, mostly White, and of middle to high SES. The class would be made up of students with mixed reading levels because Mt. Lebanon does not start tracking until high school. Also, most of the special education students are mainstreamed as much as possible, so though most of my students would be reading at grade level, several would not be. There would probably be at least one ESL student, but most of Mt. Lebanon’s ESL students are of Chinese or Japanese origin.
I plan to teach with the book, Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder. It is the true story of a young man who flees Burundi in 1994 during the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. My students have studied this conflict in their history classes, so it will draw on their background knowledge. The main character escapes to America, and though he starts out living on the streets of New York, eventually becomes a doctor. The story is told in a very journalistic manner, and may be my students’ first exposure to writing of this kind. They do, however, have a background knowledge of the conflict in Rwanda and its surrounding areas. In eighth grade history, they discuss it and watch the movie, Hotel Rwanda.
Qualitatively, this text is slightly above grade level, with the Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula yielding a 72.35 and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability Formula a 9.16. These formulas suggest that the text is approximately at the 9th grade reading level, but because of the generally high reading level of most of my students, I have confidence in teaching with this book. Also, the journalistic style, which this book is written in, generally uses longer, but not very complicated sentences, so that may have scewed the results slightly. I have no real doubts about using this text in an eighth grade classroom with the appropriate amount of scaffolding.
I chose this book for several reasons. Firstly, as a future English teacher, I think there is a marked lack of nonfiction reading in the ELA classroom. The nonfiction that is present is usually only reference materials for research projects, and I would like to make sure that nonfiction has more of a substantial presence in my classroom. Along with my own personal love of nonfiction, this belief has been influenced by the book Beyond the Pale by Marc Aronson. He argues that the novels we ask teens to read often fail to fulfill their need to influence their own worlds, and that many forms of nonfiction have the power to do that. I also want to make sure that my classroom is full of “trade books” instead of “textbooks,” as Vacca, Vacca, Mraz suggest. This particular book allows students to explore, through nonfiction narrative, the moving story of a refugee from one of history’s most brutal genocides and his success in the United States, in spite of the odds.
I will approach this unit from the theoretical principle of social constructivism. We will learn with this book together, constructing meaning in a social context. I will do my best to scaffold this reading experience in a way that draws from students’ prior knowledge of either the story or the writing style, and I will do my best to be a teacher who understands that “reading should not be an effort to suppress the personal and idiosyncratic in a search for a purified reading, uncontaminated by the reader’s individuality” (Probst 379). Students, through discussion, will have an opportunity to engage in reader response strategies, which will encourage the flow of ideas by building students’ self-efficacy.
II. Lesson Plan
A. Instructional Objectives:
After instruction, students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the book, Strength in What Remains.
After instruction, students should be able to produce a reader response multimedia project based on the text—a bookcast.
25 copies of Strength in What Remains—I will provide copies—during reading, post-reading
Computer access for each student—available in school computer lab—pre-reading and post-reading
Powerpoint projector—available in each classroom—pre-reading, post-reading
Chalkboard—available in each classroom-pre-reading, during reading
Handout—I will provide copies, pre-reading
C. Three Phases:
1. Prereading: We’ll start the lesson with a jigsaw activity in the computer lab. Students will divide into 6 groups of 4, and they will each watch one of the digital stories on the website, http://www.storycenter.org/stories/. Then, after 20 minutes of discussion, we will mix up the groups and students will spend the second half of the class telling the stories from their original group to their new group members. This activity will serve as an introduction to literary nonfiction, while asking students to use their own storytelling skills when teaching their second groups.
I know that my students already have a background knowledge of the struggle between Hutus and Tutsis, so my last step before diving into the text is to tap into that knowledge. I’ll start the second class period of the unit by asking the question what they know about it, and we’ll list what we come up with on the board. I’ll fill in the missing details with a mini-lesson. Then I’ll pass out the books, and I’ll start reading the book aloud until the end of the period.
There are also a few vocabulary words that should be taught before reading the text, most of them relating to African concepts, such as gusimburo. Before reading, I’ll list a few of them on the board and teach them explicitly. I’ll also do a review of how to use context clues to derive a word’s meaning. Then, while students are reading, they will look for the words that we discussed and note their contextual clues.
2. Reading: During the reading, which will take 2 weeks to complete, I will assign chunks of the text for the students to read each night. I will give them limited time in class to read silently. I will use the “Your own questions” strategy detailed in the Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz text. Each night, they will come up with at least 2 questions they have about the text—something they didn’t understand, something they want to discuss, or a question about how the book will progress. They’ll submit their questions at the beginning of class, and I’ll go through and select a few to guide our discussions.
Also, we will address vocabulary in the context of the text. For each reading assignment, students will pick out a word from the text they don’t know. They’ll bring the word to class, and we’ll discuss a few of the words each day, coming up with our definition of the word as a class.
3. Post-Reading: The activity we will do post-reading is for each student to create a bookcast. In a digital format, students will put together a reader response multimedia presentation combining music, pictures, video, and text. This will serve as the first step in our post-reading activities, so the videos should be a guttural response, rather than analytical. I will give them one class period to do this, and then two nights to work on it at home if they don’t finish. Again, this activity is based on the theory of reader response.
I will be making sure to take an informal assessment of students’ understanding daily through our discussions of plot, themes, vocabulary, etc. Anytime there is group work, I will be circulating to listen to their conversations. Formal assessment will be taken through the bookcast.
Checklist for bookcast:
- Bookcast is a personal, guttural reader-response, not a summery or a trailer for the book
- Bookcast uses images, video, text, and music that all contribute to its message
- Bookcast encourages audience to think creatively
- Bookcast properly sites borrowed intellectual property and uses only materials that follow guidelines discussed in class
- Bookcast is aestheticly appealing and demonstrates students’ attention to detail
E. Question Labels:
What do you know about the Hutu/Tutsi conflict? (Remembering)
What does gusimburo mean, and how does it represent the life of Deo? (Understanding, analyzing)
Do you think it was effective for Kidder to divide the book in the way he did? (evaluating)
To apply this SRE, I asked my husband Tom, who has already read the book, to participate. In general, the implementation went well, though I had to modify many of the phases because they were designed for a group. For the pre-reading section, he chose his own digital story from the website and retold it to me. Then I asked him what he knew about the Hutu/Tutsi conflict, and I filled in the blanks with a mini-lesson.
For the during-the-reading portion, I only asked him to read the first 30 pages. He came up with questions, and we discussed them. The post-reading section worked very well, and Tom said he enjoyed the bookcast and wished that we’d done them in high school. RCA2011