The Essential Question: What are the life-changing rites of passage that teens experience and how do they unfold?
Objective: To explore how literature addresses this question through the agents, their actions, significant objects, and the all-important setting, the deep wilderness, in The Bear. First, students will brainstorm what comes to mind when they think of a rite of passage. We will record their ideas, definitions, and examples on the board. Then they will read a short article (there are many on the Internet) explaining a rite of passage in a culture, including the concept of transition and ritual that, in minor and major ways, changes our understanding of ourselves in the world. Or they will do their brainstorming in groups, and then share on the board what they have found, followed by reading the short article. Once they have read the article, they will create categories for the rites of passage they have put on the board: perhaps from straight forward rites of passage such as getting a driver's license to more profound rites of passage such as experiencing the death of a loved one, or becoming a parent.
Because of Faulkner's use of poetic prose, his phraseology, the length of his sentences, and his sophisticated vocabulary, the class will begin by reading the story aloud. This will establish the relationship of the characters, their initial actions, and the deep wilderness ultimately represented in the persona of the bear. It will also give the class an opportunity to throw up on the board visual images that Faulkner creates in the first few paragraphs, such as: " . . . grown pigs and calves carried bodily into the woods, . . . shotgun and even rifle charges delivered at point-blank, . . . [with}the deliberation of a locomotive, . . . puny humans . . . about the ankles of a drowsing elephant" (Faulkner 281).
I have not decided, as yet, whether all groups will create story board graphic organizers for The Bear, or whether some may do the sequence of events graphic organizer, but all groups will begin working on these organizers as we begin reading the story in order to record accurately the interaction among agents, actions, objects, and the setting. I will ask students to pay close attention to the unfolding relationship between: (1) the boy and his wilderness mentor, Sam Fathers, (2) the unfolding relationship, beginning in the second sentence of the story, between the boy and the elusive, legendary bear that has earned itself a name, old Ben, and (3) the relationship between the boy and his rifle with a sub textual interest in his compass, watch, and snake stick. When the groups have completed their storyboards or the equivalent, they will present them to the class and engage in a discussion about interaction among the agents, action, objects, and the deep, southern wilderness.
Now, we will revisit the essential question about whether and how this was a life-changing rite of passage for the boy. Students will prepare for this class discussion with observations, and gather evidence from the story for whatever position they take.
Then, they will once again convene, first in groups to tackle the column graphic organizer with possible headings such as: the boy, Sam Fathers, the gun (compass, etc.), the six pound dog, the bear, the boy's father, and the wilderness. It is here that they will be challenged to make connections with the boy's rite of passage and those we have discussed in preparation for reading The Bear, and some they may have thought of since. It is significant that the students realize that five or six years pass from the time the story begins, when the boy is ten, to the end of the story.
This activity is especially significant for students at NHA because, as I have mentioned earlier in the narrative section on The Bear, in the spring of their sophomore year, they prepare for and present to a panel of teachers, their parents, and their peers what is called the Gateway Portfolio Project in which they reflect upon their academic and community experience in their two years at NHA. This is a very detailed preparation that requires a great deal of reflection on the courses they have taken and the projects they have completed. Part of this project is to reflect on the past two years and how they have grown, and to look to the future and what they hope to accomplish. They must pass the Gateway Portfolio Project or make another attempt the following year. In some ways, the staff is mentoring them in preparation for this project from the time they enter NHA as freshmen.
Assessment: Students will be asked to explicate with evidence how the agents, their actions, significant objects, and the setting coalesce, culminating in the boy's rite of passage; or they may choose to explicate with evidence, the role the gun plays, what it represents, and how, each time it appears or is mentioned, it is an integral part of the boy's rite of passage. There may be other possible choices that emerge as the class interacts with the story. This assessment will be an essay that follows the writing process.
This is an ideal time to answer one of the Language Arts Capt questions which is: Is this a good story? What qualities of a good story are present in this story? Students will have been exposed, in my classroom, to characteristics of a good story through a mobile that hangs from the ceiling featuring many of these characteristics: conflict, character change, action, details, humor, surprise ending, realistic, scary, intrigue, theme, and imagery. These will be part of many lessons and activities throughout the year.