The Essential Question of this lesson: What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing one's dream, and defying the status quo?
Objective: To explore how literature addresses this question through talking moths, their actions, and significant objects in the fable, The Moth and the Star. To begin students will watch an excerpt from the movie, Man on Wire, documenting the death-defying high wire walk made in 1974 by Frenchman, Phillipe Petit, between the Twin Trade Towers. For six years Petit pursued his dream, and planned his illegal, death-defying tight rope act between the Towers. He definitely was reaching for the stars . . . he practically was in the stars.
Most of us have seen tight rope walkers perform in the circus, with a net under the cable to save their lives, should a performer slip or lose his/her balance. But Phillipe Petit is a nonconformist among tight rope walkers, first because he aspired to cross a wire stretched two hundred feet between the swaying towers, and second because, had he fallen, no net 1,500 feet below could possibly have saved him. After watching an excerpt from Man on Wire, or a short from You Tube, students will take some time discussing whether it was a good thing for Petit to pursue his dream, or whether it was really too dangerous, and illegal, and even though he succeeded, the risk was too great. In a review of the documentary movie I read, at Amazon.com, a father said after watching the documentary, he wanted to grab his young son sitting next to him, and say to him, "Be sure that your art is never more important than your life."
Students will then read the fable, The Moth and the Star, and in groups will fill out a graphic organizer to chart the question, "Literally, what causes what in the story?," or in their groups they will create a story board illustrating significant scenes in the story with a skeletal script that tells what causes what, or the plot. They will be asked to include: the agents (characters), action, objects, and setting. At this level, students will be focused on the literal events in the story. At this preliminary level, the star that the obdurate young moth pursues every night is literally a star.
Groups will then share their observations as to what causes what, to be sure that they agree on the plot, and causes and effects. In this activity, students will observe what seems to make the young moth fixated on the star that he tried to reach every night, and why his brothers, sisters, and parents seem to prefer flying around street lamps, ultimately getting burned to death.
Once students agree as to what literally happened in the story, they will be ready, in their groups, to tackle the graphic organizer to unlock the symbolic meaning in the fable. Across the top of a landscape graphic organizer, divided into columns, they will discuss the headings that they need to enter. Something like: (1) young moth, (2) his parents, (3) his siblings, (4) street lamps, and (5) the star. Groups will brainstorm all the possible symbolic representations for each column, including the star that the young moth is trying to reach, and the representations of the street lamps where the moth's siblings and parents lost their lives conforming to the lifestyle of a typical moth.
The young moth is a dreamer or a person who is reaching for something beyond his immediate environment, and even though he is ridiculed and chided by his parents, for being a non-conformist, he persists. Even though he never achieves his dream, he grows old and is happy, because eventually he thinks he has reached it, and his siblings have all long-since died, with no dream or passion to keep them alive. I read in the newspaper this morning about a young man who has been pressured to join a gang in the hood, but he has held out because he has other ideas about his life and future. The occasion for the article is that one of his acquaintances who did conform and join the gang has been murdered . . . flying around street lamps.
When students have completed the column graphic organizer, entering as many scenarios as they can imagine, they will have a class discussion of their observations as to what they wrote in the columns. And, because fables are characterized by morals, often stated at the end, they will brainstorm and reach consensus on the moral of this fable. Of course, at some point I will divulge Thurber's moral.
Assessment: Once students have completed the cause and effect graphic organizer/or story board graphic organizer, and filled out the column graphic organizer where they explore the sweeping possibilities of the representations or meaning in the symbols in the fable, and the moral, they will write a Reflection in which they clarify their understanding of this fable and how it represents, or is symbolic, their own lives, the lives of people they know, or people they know about. This activity will address one of the Language Arts CAPT questions that asks students to make connections between the piece of literature and their own lives, observations of the lives of others, books they have read, movies they have seen, etc.
Having been immersed in this fable, and in other lessons focusing on Aesop's Fables, I will encourage them to write and share their own fables, preferably now, or as part of the culminating project for this unit. This will also be part of the assessment.