Contrary to my initial expectations, teaching an
Honors English 2 class has proven to be hard work. When I was approached by my department head at Hillhouse two years ago to take an honors class, I was delighted! After three years of dealing with basic level ninth graders and developmental level tenth graders, I was ready to teach something other than basic sentence structure and subject/ verb agreement. I needed a challenge. I got more than I bargained for!
The average sophomore honors English student reads at least on grade level. The abilities of the students I’ve dealt with range in reading level from tenth grade to second year college. A few students test to levels that are off the top of the charts. At times, my comprehension and interpretation skills seem to pale in comparison with theirs. Their writing skills are on par with their reading skills. Their insights and opinions are usually thought provoking and challenging. In general, these students can really pick one’s brain.
Another factor in the challenge this class has presented to me is that we meet right after their lunch period. Their conversations on various social activities are carried right into the classroom; so I’m greeted by the buzz of this chatter and hyperactivity.
The trick, then, is to provide stimulating topics for discussion and literary units to grab their attention and direct their verbal energy. After fumbling through my first year with Honors 2, I hit upon something this year which I used in the first marking period to solve the problem temporarily mythology. This unit describes ways that I’ve developed to expand my existing unit, I will use it throughout the first marking period and possibly two weeks into the second.
Using the Man the Myth Maker text, we will explore mythology through a cross-cultural, archetypal approach. Each chapter presents a variety of myths, poems, short stories or excerpts from novels which contain a common element related to a mythological archetype. The first chapter deals with the creation myths from a variety of cultures. The second chapter concentrates on the divine teacher in both benevolent and malevolent manifestations. The third chapter examines the results of the loss of childhood and innocence, the human decline from the ‘golden age‘ of the gods. Chapter Four presents the various elements and versions of the flood myth. Chapter Five highlights the metamorphosis myth and Chapter Six studies the relationship between the cycles of human life and those of nature.
The evaluation format of this text is based on the discussion of answers to questions which follow the reading selections. My first objective in this unit is to develop a more structured approach to these discussionS, in an attempt to channel this class’s verbal energy in a more constructive manner. Another reason for this objective is to engage more students in discussion. The same core group of students always responds with little variation. As a result, I tend to look automatically to ward these students for a response and ignore the others When the core group doesn’t respond or is absent, I tend to do all the talking, answering my own questions. My planned discussion then turns into a lecture.
As part of my research towards the completion of this objective, I attended a ten hour workshop sponsored by the Great Books Foundation and learned a technique called ‘shared inquiry,‘ It is a method of examining literature through interpretive reading and discussion. This technique puts more responsibility on each student to respond orally. This technique will be described in detail in the ‘Classroom Strategies and Sample Lesson Plans‘ section of the unit.
The second objective of the unit is to introduce and examine the characteristics and archetypes of Greek mythology through selected readings from
Man the Myth Maker
, Edith Hamilton’s
, and Ovid’s
. Sections of Homer’s
will also be examined. This examination will concentrate on the Greek concepts of gods and goddesses, and heroes and heroines. I also plan to compare and contrast the concepts of matriarchy and patriarchy. This is an attempt to make a connection between how women were represented in the myths of a male-dominated society and how they are represented in present day society. Dissemination of this material to the students will be through lectures, selected readings and work sheets.
The third objective of the unit is to incorporate writing activities and projects by the students with the readings in each Myth Maker chapter. Reading and discussion activities are not always sufficient in making abstract concepts clear to students. Along with discussing the questions through the shared inquiry process, I will assign a topic related to each archetype to which the students will respond in writing. These activities will reflect the students’ interpretation of the archetype by use of their own knowledge and experiences. For example, the assigned topic after the creation myth readings will be a composition describing the students’ version of an ‘ideal world,‘ in which they put themselves in the role of a creator.
Art or craftwork projects will accompany some of the chapters. Time limitations will make planning a one or two day project for each Myth Maker chapter impossible. To connect a project with the ‘ideal world‘ writing assignment mentioned above, I will assign each student to construct a collage-style version of his or her utopia using construction paper, photos, drawings, and magazine or newspaper pictures or headlines.