Any teacher contemplating the use of this unit must be prepared to spend a full year on detective fiction. Because a teacher is often a model for student interest, it is important that they see the teacher reading detective fiction from the beginning of the year. They must hear the teacher talking about mysteries. The establishment of an active interest is major. This will whet the appetite of the class.
The teacher will establish the use of the Socratic method in the classroom from the beginning of the year. The use of the well-placed question in a high school can be difficult. Often, the well-placed question is the key to solving the mystery, whether that be in the story or in deciphering an unknown word.
The state of Connecticut is moving toward standards for each grade level. These standards influence instruction in specific areas. They encourage using many types of instruction, including student centered learning and the Socratic method. In addition, most teacher training institutions do not teach the Socratic technique to people preparing to become teachers. Teachers must prepare carefully for this. Eventually, the construction of the well-placed question, on the spot, can become an immediate tool. Until that time, daily lessons for the marking period must contain examples of the well placed questions. Student discussions can be satisfactory self teaching opportunities. Teachers must be prepared for criticism when they do not stand before the class and lecture. They must establish a classroom atmosphere where student thoughts are respected and substantive, student centered discussions can happen. For Advancement Academy students and young people in general, the introduction of group discussion on academic subjects helps to establish an important skill, useful for both academic and social settings. It lets them know that it is all right to talk, to present an idea, within a context. It teaches and reinforces the use of the question as the initial step in learning.
For the first marking period, this means scheduling in time for questioning and diversions from the planned lessons. It means practicing group discussions. The fact that a teacher may only complete fifty per cent of his/her plans has to be accepted, if other success measures, like hearty exchanges based on reading materials, are achieved.
During the second marking period and directly preceding the use of this unit, the teacher will present several informal motivational activities - the introduction of a shelf of mysteries, the showing of a related film, a mystery game, etc. This will also serve as a measure for the ease or difficulty of the tasks ahead during the more formal instruction.
Over the course of the second or third marking period, students will read The Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley, covering the 42 chapters in sections over approximately ten weeks. The task for the classroom teacher is to vary the strategies so that various learning styles can be accommodated and the book gets read. There should be silent reading and journal entries and writing in conjunction with straight reading. Even though these are high school students, it is important to include several read-a-loud experiences. In addition, the teacher will pull at least 50 vocabulary words directly from the text. Students will be asked to record the meanings of these words in their notebooks and to add their own unknown vocabulary entries. In addition to quick weekly quizzes on the vocabulary, the teacher will construct factual tests on the story, the characters, the related aspects of the life of the author, and the themes presented. While reading the entire book is key here, it is assumed that family will assist the students to complete most of the reading at home so class can be reserved for the well placed questions, motivation, and check up.
This novel is available on audiotape and the use of this media, perhaps from seven to ten minutes at a time, is most appropriate. Paul Winfield, an accomplished actor, delivers a reading that captures the compelling drama of Mosley's writing. His voice is accompanied by some well-chosen music at the beginning of sections. However, I do not encourage listening to the tape in its entirety. Students tend to put their heads down and even drift into sleep no matter how good the oral presentation. In addition, I found that the oral and written presentations of the story were very different. The narrator provides his own interpretations. Another difference lies in the fact that material used for the audiotape has been edited and student will miss the rich language of the author, if they only listen to the story. His metaphors are vivid. Mosley gives a reader enough for the individual's own interpretations to take shape.
It is extremely important that student work involve at least one classroom visitor, an officer of the law and, if it can be arranged, a visit to a local police headquarters, forensic laboratory, or a crime scene. One classroom session in the media center should be designed to have the students examine the print resources available and to search electronic resources. This library visit might be related to a special project which the students will be expected to complete.
There are many activities which can be conducted to make this unit successful. However, the teacher must be sure that time remains available in the school year for follow up and evaluation.