Two very essential skills for life that seventh and eighth grade students ore often than not have difficult with are the abiLities to comprehend what they read and to communicate effectively in their writing. These skills are constantly assessed throughout years of schooling with one inevitable result—too many of our middle school and high school students need remediation in both reading comprehension and writing skills.
Our response as teachers to this void in our students’ academic progress is a laborious process to attempt Do pique their interests in reading with quality literature that has some relevance to their lives. Moreover, we will exhaustively design a series of writing assignments that will not only hold our students’ interest to the task at had but also keep our own spirits alert by the time the overdue third draft wafts lazily upon our desk.
In some ways this present unit reflects an image very similar to all that has transpired in our prior attempts to remediate two skills so vitally important, albeit hardly recognizable, to our students. This unit will address the need for students to read quality, relevant fiction ar,d understand that fiction. This unit will. also provide a forum for which the students will write both critically and creatively.
I have elected American short fiction to be the focal point of the reading suggested for this unit. Short fiction seems best suited for my seventh and eighth grade students as the conclusion of the story is with the rap of my students once the first paragraph has been read. Short stories, wit their compactness of style and without the sometimes tediousness of character and scene exposition, concentrate on thematic concerns and these notions of theme are exactly what I want my students to regard as their ultimate purpose in the reading of these stories.
The appropriateness or American fiction is another prime tenet of this unit. Fiction written by American, authors and concentrating on the American experience will help substantiate the relevance of this reading for y students. To further ascertain strengthen the bond of relevancy, I have decided that the main characters in each of the stories read will be teenagers. Hopefully, my students will enjoy reading stories that concentrate on members of their own age grouping.
The main focus of this unit will be to read these various selections of short American fiction that deal with teenage protagonists. students will experience the major themes of each of these selections. These readings will be augmented by z series of questions for discussion designed to help students both to read ore critically and to experience the tale more clearly. Students will then react to one or more suggestions or writing that will become part of a collection of writing. Particular attention will be given to what the students say in their papers rather than the usual heavy emphasis on mechanics. All student writing will be short reactions to the reading compiled in a Log rather than following a multidraft type process. Finally, students may elect to write their own short fiction relating to the particular theme of the story read. These selections will be mandated as class assignments but will become part of the overall writing package.
A wide variety of themes will be covered in the unit through the reading of key short stories that were written in the twentieth century. Such themes will include suicide, alcohol or drug abuse, love, sexual relationships, goal orientation, maturity, and, most importantly, adult-child relationships.
Twentieth-century American short fiction has given us a number of tales that comment upon the themes mentioned above and that concern the age group that we teach, Certainly these themes have become important issues in our society and entire curricular programs have been devised to address them as they all affect our inner city students. any of our students come to school each day from single parent homes—some where the nucLear family may not even have existed from birth. Some of our students are the target of or witness to parental abuse. Many of our students live in neighborhoods where it is not necessary to participate in fictitious games of “cops and robbers” as these neighborhoods are the substance of real life front page news reports involving drug arrests. It is no small wonder that many of our students find it difficult to sped time reading a story or writing a paper or even coming to school at all with the variety of outside influences that permeate their daily existence. It is no small wonder that critical reading and writing skills require almost continual remediation by the time that students reach the middle school level.
Five years ago I wrote a unit under the auspices of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute entitled “Small Packages.” In many ways this present effort is a continuation of its predecessor that was primarily designed to introduce quality short fiction to my students. The major thrust behind my efforts at that time was the fact that there did not seem to be much quality short fiction in the student anthologies that were available. Since that time the constraints of the seventh and eighth grade curriculum in Language Arts have become more focused through the introduction of a language arts program that has unified the city curriculum but that leaves little time for the pursuit of literature. No appreciable benefit has arisen from the introduction of a companion student anthology in this program. As in the past the publisher’s concerns with theme are basically no different from anthologies introduced thirty and forty years ago. Dad works, mom tends house, and little Jimmy and Sally try to figure out how to stop their pet dog, Buffy, from digging up Mrs. Smith’s rose garden. All’s well that ends well in these picturesque tales from suburbia that have no relevance whatsoever for our inner city students.
Whereas the previous short story unit I devised introduced quality short fiction to students with a particular regard to the genre, this present effort deals more with questions and concerns of theme. This effort can be used as a companion to the previous unit or by itself. The previous unit deals mainly with short fiction from a variety of authors and concerns all the elements of the short story; this unit deals exclusively with questions of theme that can be translated into the reality that is my students’ everyday experience.
There are certainly numerous stories that should be used within the context of this unit. Anyone using this unit can feel free to substitute favorite stories for the ones I am suggesting below. The particular stories I am choosing were all written in the twentieth century although none are very recent. These are stories that have passed the test of time. The tone of most of them is quite subtle and sedate when compared to more modern short stories of the last ten to fifteen years. None of my selections include what might be considered particularly offensive language or even street vernacular. This is doe purposefully as my reading audience is seventh and eighth grade. High school teachers may readily use stories that include such language as their audience would be necessarily more mature. In any event, the themes of my stories are controversial enough and contribute to the overall purpose of the unit sufficiently to allow for high interest reading, spirited discussion, and thematic ideas for writing.
The plan of the unit is quite simple. Students will read a particular story, participate in a class discussion, and write in response to a specific writing suggestion. my intention is to assign one short story per week for a period of ten weeks. More capable classes may be able to read and react to two or even tree stories within a week’s time although the demands of the seventh and eighth grade language arts curriculum may inhibit teachers at that level from doubling the assignments.
The questions for discussion will no only attempt to highlight the specific theme offered in the story but will also emphasize a particular focus of the element of a short story. he elements of short fiction tat will be concentrated upon will include those that are closely aligned to the general tenet of the unit. Elements such as character, setting, nd point of view will be the keys that unlock the story for my students. these, it seems, are conventions that not only could be more easily understood by the novice reader of short fiction but also are readily translated into the reality I hope my students can sense as they read these fictional accounts. I hope that my students (character) in their particular environment (setting) can appreciate their being (point of view) based upon the stories read. The end result will be an understanding of fiction as that fiction becomes the reality of their own existence,
The suggestions for writing that follow the discussion questions are designed to concentrate solely on the theme embodied within the story. Students will have a choice in the selection of these writing assignments which can be classified as reaction papers. o particular length will be specified for these responses to the reading although it is hoped that each student will attempt to write at least one page for each assignment. All student writing will Pe kept in individual writing folders throughout the course of the unit.