The following is an eight week unit focused on building students' abilities in applying various styles of literary criticism successfully when examining a text for literary merit. Through engaging in the tasks in this unit, students will build a working definition of their own personal aesthetics, through an epistemological approach to understanding self. In addition, students will build a working academic vocabulary and skill base for successfully analyzing both fiction and non-fiction texts.
The term "personal aesthetics" is used to describe students' own likes and dislikes with regard to literature they encounter. The term "aesthetics" is used broadly to encapsulate all the stylistic choices an author makes consciously or subconsciously when creating a literary piece of work. In this unit, students will be asked to examine their initial reaction to an author's aesthetic choices and reflect on how that reaction to the author's choices gives information to the student about his or her own "personal aesthetic."
The term "personal epistemology" is used to describe students' journey to understanding, discovering, and creating self. The term is applied to this unit during student writing tasks. The responses and culminating project reflect each student's unique understanding of his or her personal epistemology and how it resides in relationship to other classmates. While epistemology is essentially the study of knowledge and justified belief, this unit seeks to give students the academic language to support, evaluate, and defend their aesthetic disposition on a literary work. My hope is that students might find a kinship with other authors' opinions and critiques, including their fellow classmates' opinions and critiques.
Students will engage in classroom activities that require them to reflect on their own personal biases, as well as those of their classmates, when examining a shared class text. Students will investigate how an individual's personal bias can influence perceptions regarding the overall quality of a text. Students will have opportunities to reflect on their own preferences and also on the preferences of classmates through a "Writer's Workshop" approach to editing and revising written responses. Through engaging in this kind of peer assessment activity, students will build a collective consciousness regarding the aesthetic preferences of the classroom as a whole. In their culminating essay, students will reflect on trends, similarities, and differences that arise.
It is understood that every student follows an individual learning journey. This unit seeks to help students to understand that learning journey and to walk along it with a reflective and developmentally appropriate level of awareness. While Special Education students might require task modifications and additional supports, it is important that students engage in all the tasks outlined in the unit in order to benefit fully from the unit's intent.
I currently teach grade 9 at The Cooperative Arts Magnet High School. All grade 9 teachers in the English Department teach The Odyssey each spring. Students are already familiar with Ancient Greece after studying it during Quarter 2 in World History. Study-ing The Odyssey allows for collaboration among departments and transference of learning across various subjects for students.
While students are familiar with the content and cultural context of the story, the language is still challenging. In order to engage students at various reading levels, I have devised a unit that will serve as a pre-cursor to Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. The unit includes a short story, "Circe's Palace" from The Tanglewood Tales written for children by a well-known author, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne wrote this book with the intent to make mythological stories accessible and available for children. He broke down Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey into small short stories told to children by a narrator. Hawthorne and I both share a similar purpose: accessibility of great literature.
In order to increase student engagement and address multiple learning styles, I have included supplemental materials in the form of video clips, online critiques from bloggers, poetry, and visual charts. These resources are used to help students to gain multiple perspectives on a given analytical lens, as well as on the text, "Circe's Palace" itself. It is my hope that students will remain engaged and will not lose interest studying the same main text. I have found in previous units that if students know the content of the plot it makes teaching the strategies they need to learn much easier to practice. Through using a multi-sensory approach to the unit's design, I hope to capitalize on student's content knowledge of the story and work specifically on discrete skills which they may or may not have mastered.
What I have observed in my classes is that students are most interested in learning and writing about themselves and their lived experiences. They enjoy sharing stories about their weekend adventures and find almost any reason to write about themselves. I have chosen "Circe's Palace" because it deals with a relationships and sexuality. Students seem most engaged when learning is sensationalized; hence the title of the feminist lens section is "Circe: Witch, Bitch or Feminist?" Students also enjoy delving into the relationships and the inevitable conflicts that ensue in works of fiction. Students find many parallels to their own lived experiences in these episodes.
I have chosen Circe's story because she represents an iconic, powerful female which most students can find a parallel to in the media or in their personal lives. Many of my students are in homes without fathers and are being raised by mothers, grandmothers, and aunts who share Circe's independence. In addition, The Cooperative Arts Magnet High School is made up of 75% female students. Studying the strong female character of Circe will offer an appropriate counter balance for the study of the "ultra-masculine" Odysseus who is the main focus of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey.
Throughout their freshman year, grade 9 students are asked to examine the Essential Question, "Who Am I?" for the entire year. Each marking period is then sub-divided and students are asked to examine even more specific questions as they move through learning activities.
In Marking Period 1 students examine the question, "How Do I Define Myself?" This Essential Question is clearly addressed by the unit because the unit itself is intended to help students to build a more coherent, comprehensive view of themselves, one which includes a sense of their own intellectual and academic identities as individuals. The unit focuses specifically on students' personal likes and dislikes as they relate to a piece of literature.
In Marking Period 2, students are asked to consider the question, "What Can I Learn About Myself by Examining the Lives and Experiences of Others?" Student will explore this question as they participate in "Writers' Workshop" and peer review classroom activities. Students will have opportunities to read and respond to the writing of others and then to revise their own work. Through this exercise, students will explore other students' aesthetics and compare and contrast those perspectives to their own. Additionally, students will examine and analyze critiques by other writers. Students will utilize the four main lenses that will comprise the strategies used during classroom activities. These critiques will offer students a structure for understanding the stylistic choices writers adopt when using various analytical strategies.
In Marking Period 3, students are asked to consider the question, "With People Continually Trying to Define Me, How Do I Learn to Make Decisions for Myself?" This Essential Question requires students to reflect on how other people seek to define and label them as people and learners. It asks students to become more aware of themselves and the pressures around them. This unit allows students to reflect on the cultural underpinnings of their personal aesthetics. It asks them to become meta-aware of how external influences help to influence their personal choices.
In Marking Period 4, students are asked to consider the question, "What Does It Mean to Grow Up? How Can I Find My Own Path to Being the Person I Want to Be?" Through this unit's culminating activity, student will build an understanding of their own current aesthetic preferences. While the unit gives students the language and structures to begin to understand themselves in the present, it also allows for students to reflect and adjust their perspectives in light of other students' perspectives and their own uncovered biases. This unit allows students the opportunity to plan a meta-aware learning journey they can reflectively participate in. The unit empowers students to create their own futures and the ability to "grow-into" or "grow-out-of" who they are presently.
The Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School is currently a "school in need of improvement" according the State of Connecticut. Throughout this unit, students will be practicing the skills necessary to reach successful completion of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT). Students will specifically gain language and vocabulary needed to respond coherently to "Question Four" on the CAPT, which deals specifically with the analysis of literature.
According to the data provided at our grade level data team meetings, students are weakest in their ability to take a critical stance. I have designed a unit that specifically addresses this issue, by allowing student the opportunity to discover and define their own personal aesthetic, which will, in-turn, help student to articulate a supported critical stance.
Delivery of Instruction, "Epic Odyssey-Style"
At The Cooperative Arts Magnet High School, we teach in a 90-minute block schedule. On Fridays, students visit every period for a traditional 45-minute class period. During this time, I allow students to participate in independent reading for enjoyment or to work in a "Free-Write Friday" in which they can write about whatever they choose. This approach was very successful and students looked forward to Fridays each week.
I plan to use Fridays more constructively by implementing this unit during that time. Students will be on a year-long "Odyssey," journeying to revisit this unit of study each Friday. I plan to use the 45-minute class period to engage students in an on-going unit of study which will supplement their weekly classroom lessons from the grade 9 district curriculum. Because this unit asks students to reflect on themselves and their choices, I'm hoping that it will be successful with my students who, due to their developmental level, tend to be self-absorbed.
Throughout the course of this unit, students will be engaging with specific subject matter in the form of broad content objectives. As literacy and language themselves are complicated and multi-faceted, each content objective has been carefully woven into the design of the unit's structure and many lessons meet multiple content objectives in a single task.
The first content objective met by this unit is Standard 1: Reading and Responding. Through engaging with the main text for the unit, "Circe's Palace" and a number of other supplementary texts, students will be practicing skills in interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating a text. Students will be exposed to a number of sources to engage and broaden their content base. It is expected that this exposure will then make students' communication with one another easier through the use of a shared academic vocabulary.
The second content objective met by this unit is Standard 2: Exploring and Responding to Literature. Students will explore a number of critical responses to literature including critiques from their classmates and published authors. Students will be required to consider the author's audience and purpose in writing, as well as possible influences that might exert some kind of bias on the author.
The third content objective met by this unit is Standard 3: Communicating with Others. Students will use narrative, expository and persuasive writing modes throughout the unit. Students work will be edited, revised and published according to specific guidelines established prior to formal tasks being initiated.
The fourth content objective met by this unit is Standard 4: Applying English Language Conventions. Students will apply MLA format and various style techniques for each analytical lens. Students will be required to use academic language and refrain from using slang. Students will be required to write in the "active" voice for all formal writing responses.