Let's be honest, some of your students are reluctant readers. . .Action adventure movies? Now that speaks to them. Downloading music? That engages them. Deconstructing narrative fiction as we analyze the literary devices of similes? Some days I could hear the snoring before their heads hit the desk... Alan Sitomer
Many of my students have difficulties in reading, writing, and public speaking. Guided reading of poems and song lyrics combined with listening to poetry and songs with a focus on voice will be an excellent tool for increasing student reading comprehension. Duplicating the organizational structures and patterns of poems will help motivate the students to write original poems to express their own voice. My students will spend five days reading selected poems and compare the speaker's voice in the poem to the speaker's voice in selected songs with similar themes. My students will then over a five day period have an opportunity to write and then read original poems and songs to the class. This will decrease their apprehensions towards public speaking and help them learn to listen to each other in the classroom.
We will use themes that students can connect with in order to learn how to interpret voice and accomplish understanding of standard-based objectives. Students who achieve objective requirements through themes that they can relate to are more likely to show proficiency when assessed on the same themes using less familiar texts. This is my motivation for using rap songs and classic poems to improve reading comprehension and interpretation of voice.
Talib Kweli and Nina Simone
The first comparison will be between the rap song "For Women" by Talib Kweli and "Four Women" by Nina Simone. Talib Kweli began his musical career as a member of Black Star in the late 1990s, and is one of the few artists who create music that actually has some meaning. The rapper's music has the potential to educate and entertain simultaneously. Nina Simone has been described as a Singer, Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Honorary Doctor in Music and Humanities, High Priestess of Soul, and Queen of African Rooted Classical Music. The song by Talib Kweli was written as a tribute to Nina Simone's poem. The comparison of the song and poem is a creative way for students to analyze voice.
I will begin the lesson by reading "For Women" by Talib Kweli. This will immediately gain students interest. I will next begin a discussion of what students believe the song is about and the structure and organization of the song. We will pay specific attention to what "person" the song is written in because the song is written in third person while the poem is written in first person. We will discuss how the perspective that a song is written from affects interpretation of meaning. I will next have different students read the song to the class. I will then lead a discussion with the class about the different images they saw as each person read the song. I will then play the song and have students write a short response to the song that states how their initial images changed or remained the same after hearing the song. Finally, I will have students create their own songs with a similar structure, and theme. It is my goal that the completion of these exercises will model the process that we will use throughout this unit for analyzing poetry and prose as well as set up a foundation for interpreting voice.
I will continue the comparison process by reading "Four Women" by Nina Simone. I will next begin a discussion of what students believe the poem is about. I will ask them to identify the structure and organization of the poem with a focus on the fact that the poem is written in first person. Simone in the stanza of the poem about Aunt Sara writes "my skin is black, my arms are long"
while Kweli writes "her skin was black like it's packed with melanin."
This will be discussed so students can not only learn to listen for subtle similarities and differences, but so they can also learn how the voice of the speaker changes based on subtle similarities and differences. I will next have different students read the poem to the class. I will then lead a discussion with the class about the different images they saw as each person read the poem. I will then have students write a short response to the poem that states how their initial images changed or remained the same. A great way to differentiate this is to have students draw pictures that depict the images heard (imagined). Finally, I will have students create their own poem with a similar structure and theme.
Notorious B.I.G. and Langston Hughes
The second comparison will be between the rap song "Juicy" by Notorious B.I.G. and "Harlem: A Dream deferred" by Langston Hughes. Notorious B.I.G. was an American rapper and hip hop artist noted for his "loose, easy flow," dark, semi-autobiographical lyrics, and storytelling abilities. Langston Hughes was an American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and newspaper columnist. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. "Juice" has been described as a
"rags-to-riches chronicle" detailing Notorious B.I.G.'s early years in poverty, his initial dreams of becoming a rap artist and early influences, his time in drugs and crime, and his eventual success in the music business. The poem, "Dream Deferred," by Langston Hughes, has been described as one man's expression of his dreams during a difficult time period. Both the song and the poem address a similar issue. Hughes addresses the issue through rhetorical questions such as "what happens to a dream deferred?" "Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"
Notorious B.I.G. addresses the issue from the perspective of achieving his dream by writing "I made the change from a common thief, to up close and personal with Robin Leach..."
I will begin the lesson by reading "Juicy" by Notorious B.I.G. I will next begin a discussion of what students believe the song is about and the structure and organization of the song. I will next have different students read the song to the class while the rest of the class highlight key words and phrases as they listen. I will then lead a discussion with the class about the different images they saw as each person read the song. I will then play the song and have students write a short response to the song that states how their initial images changed or remained the same after hearing the song. Finally, I will have students create their own songs with a similar theme.
I will continue the comparison process by reading "Harlem: A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes. I will next begin a discussion of what students believe the theme of the poem is and have them identify patterns they notice while listening to the poem. I will next have different students read the poem to the class. I will then lead a discussion with the class about the different images they saw as each person read the poem. I will then have students write a short response to the poem that states how their initial images changed or remained the same. This will show how mental pictures created by personal interpretation of voice can be changed based on how the voice is presented. Students may form a specific image when reading a selected piece and form an entirely different one when listening to the tone of the author or how the author stresses certain words or syllables. Finally, I will have students create their own poem with a similar theme.
Zion I and Rudyard Kipling
The third comparison will be between the song "How Many" by Zion I and the classic poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling. Zion I is a hip hop duo famous for the use of poetic, positive, and socially conscious lyrics. Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English author and poet, best known today for his children's books, including
The Jungle Book
. Zion I begins each stanza with the question "how many?" while Rudyard Kipling begins each stanza with a clause "if." Zion I and Rudyard Kipling have both creatively written pieces about ponderings. The focus of analysis in this section will be on how the very different writers used a similar strategy (ponderings) to express themselves.
Tupac Shakur and Dylan Thomas
The final comparison will be between the song "Me Against the World" by Tupac Shakur and the classic poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas. Tupac Shakur was an American artist renowned for his rap music, movie roles, poetry, and his social activism. Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer. In "Me Against the World" Shakur writes "...through every dark night theres a bright day after that, so no matter how hard it get(s), stick ya chest up, keep ya head up, and handle it."
This is similar to Thomas in his poem to his dying father when he writes, "...Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Both writrers are expressing their view on how to handle difficult situations. Students will interpret on how these vastly different writers expressed a similar view and how repetition was used to stress a particular idea.
The culminating project for "Hip-Hop and the Classics" sub-unit will be in-class presentations of either original poems and songs or excerpts from a student's favorite song or poem. The presentation will be videotaped to provide students an opportunity to critique themes expressed in their classmates' poetry and their oratory skills.
Who Gets It Right the First Time
What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn, was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish. Thomas Wolfe11
One of the central problems my students face when writing is their belief that their first draft is a finished work. Many of my students believe that editing and revising are merely sections of their Connecticut Mastery Test. The "Who Gets It Right the First Time?" sub-unit will help alleviate this misconception. It is my belief that if my students are able to view the drafts of speeches of well-known orators with a focus of how the author's changed their speeches to better expresses their views, they will be more willing to revise and re-write their own speeches. Speeches often consist of the voice of an individual expressing the views of many (an example of this is the "I Have a Dream" speech). The United States Constitution is a single document that collectively expresses the voice of every citizen in the United States in an on-going effort to protect each individual. The Constitution is a document that has been amended twenty-seven times since its first draft was written in 1870. Each amendment to the Constitution was to better protect or in some cases acknowledge the rights of certain groups or individuals who voiced opposition to the original document. Students will review a copy of the United States Constitution and its Amendments with a focus on how the voices of many people continue to shape American law.
An inventive approach for the interpretation of voice and accomplishing language arts standards is the use of historically significant speeches and documents. Students who gain understanding of standard based objectives through themes that transcend the usual literacy and language arts themes are more likely to show proficiency when assessed on the same themes using traditional text. It is this belief that is my motivation for using speeches and the United States Constitution to improve reading comprehension, interpretation of voice, and encourage revising written works. This aspect of the sub-unit will also be useful in United States history instruction.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of the primary language arts goals for eight-graders is to write persuasive essays. The "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be viewed as a persuasive essay since it embodies the elements of a persuasive essay. The speech expresses a specific stance on a topic and supports the stance with facts, examples, experiences and details. The speech also has a clear introduction, body, and a conclusion which is the structure of essays taught in grade eight.
The "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most well known speeches in America and is closely associated with the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Most students have been exposed to this speech at some point in their schooling. Most students who have heard this speech may be surprised that the speech was developed through constant editing revisions that spanned several years. I believe if students are able to examine revisions to a speech that is so well recognized, they will be more willing to revise their own written works.
I will begin this sub-unit with an audio playing of the "I Have a Dream Speech" by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This will allow students to listen to the finished speech in the voice of the original speaker. Students will also have a copy of the speech to read along while listening. Students will be instructed to underline parts of the speech where Dr. King raised or lower his voice in order to stress a particular point. I will then have students create their own speeches with a similar theme. I will ask them to raise or lower their voices in certain areas of the speech to stress a particular point.
After students complete their speeches, I will present to them excerpts of drafts of sermons and speeches that Dr. King revised to create his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" dating back to the late nineteen-fifties. One example appears in a draft of King's address to the National Press Club in July 1962. In it, he writes of a "land where men no longer argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character."
In his famous 1963 speech: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Students will observe that the revision made that section of the speech more personal and thus more powerful. Students will analyze revisions and compare them to the original speech to interpret the effect the revisions had on the finished speech. Students will also view a copy of the final draft of the "I Have a Dream Speech" with handwritten notes on the back of the typed pages. Students will then be instructed to revise their own speeches to insure that the message they want to convey is clear and concise.
I will continue the "Who Gets It Right the First Time?" sub-unit by reading "The Emancipation Proclamation" by Abraham Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, which declared the freedom of all slaves in the Confederate States of America. The Emancipation Proclamation will be used to show how even a President of the United States had to revise a document to better express him self.
I will distribute copies of the first and second drafts of the executive order. Students will be instructed to note how the preliminary version differs from the final version of January 1, 1863, by placing a greater emphasis on the preservation of the Union as a motivating force for the Proclamation. Students will also view editing marks on the document. Students will then be instructed to create their own "proclamations" with a similar theme as the "Emancipation Proclamation." Their topic will be freeing Americans from poverty.
After students complete their proclamations, students will then be instructed to revise them to insure that the message they want to convey is clear and concise. Students will then compare their two speeches according to the criteria previously mentioned.
The United States Constitution
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. It was adopted in its original form on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Constitution has a central place in American law and political culture. The Constitution has been described as a "living document" because it continues to shape American culture and law through its Amendments. An amendment is a change to the Constitution.
The final study of voice in this sub-unit will be on how revisions can change interpretations of meaning. Students will analyze the United States Constitution. James Bryce is quoted as saying, "We have seen that the American Constitution has changed, is changing, and by the law of its existence must continue to change. . ."
Students will use this statement as the basis of their analysis. Students will first view the original Constitutionand discuss how the voices of individuals and groups created the Constitution and have amended it. They will then view amendments to the Constitution to determine how the amendment represented the voices of a particular group and changed the interpretation of the Constitution. One example of this is the original Constitution outlined rights for white land owners including the right to vote while the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote.
The culminating project for the "Who Gets It Right the First Time?" sub-unit will be a creation of a Classroom Constitution.