Lisa Zunshine, a literary critic, argues that "fiction engages, teases, and pushes to its tentative limits our mind-reading capacity." Her conclusion relates to "recent findings of cognitive psychologists into literary studies" that "explain behavior in terms of underlying states of mind -- or mind-reading ability."
Hence, this unit focuses on the students'/readers' ability to understand and explain a character's behavior, thoughts, feelings, and desires through a close consideration of all the details that are conveyed by several different aspects of the text: its structure, its description of setting, its imagery, and its symbols. The unit starts with the following essential questions: "Who is this character/person? What does he/she thinks? What are his/her feelings? How do you know?" In order to achieve this objective, the students start by reading a real person. This initial activity teaches them to detect and analyze specific external cues like facial expressions, the tone of the voice, clothing, hair style, environment, and/or interests to decode the individual's feelings and thoughts. This is followed by the second section that explores two specific texts, Macbeth and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, with particular emphasis on the above mentioned literary conventions. The unit concludes with the writing of an essay discussing how structure, setting, imagery, and symbolism are used by the author to characterize Macbeth and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The students have to support their analysis with four or more scholarly sources.
The opening section, therefore, teaches the students to infer thoughts and possible hidden feelings of a real person through the close analysis of external details. Specifically, the students have to select one of their peers in our class and they have to observe him or her for a certain period of time at least one week while keeping a journal where they describe all the smallest details they can notice. First of all they have to describe the environment -- classroom, cafeteria, hall, and/or any other setting where they see this classmate. They take notes on the clothes he/she wears, as well as the different reactions, attitudes, or behaviors they can notice when this classmate is in a different setting like a different classroom with a different teacher. They also have to focus on specific colors this person chooses and/or any kind of fashion jewelry he or she wears or does not wear. I expect them to take notes of any kind of variations -- clothing, behavior, tone of the voice, food change, and/or different attitude towards school work and/or teacher. The objective of this activity is to achieve more efficiency in close reading of the person's surrounding them as they attempt to understand what state of mind certain behaviors convey.
The second section of this unit is based on the reading and analysis of Macbeth by William Shakespeare and Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Students who may not have concluded the previous session proficiently will work separately with a worksheet containing specific clues they have to investigate to determine who a person/character is. This time, these students work with a visual text connected to the art class they have to take in the context of our Arts and Humanities school the picture of a dancer, a singer, a musician, or a portrait. As soon as they reach proficiency, they work with the entire class. All the others, who have scored at a proficient level in the pre-assessment activity, read Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and Macbeth by William Shakespeare as a homework assignment. The lowest students watch the movies first, and then, together with the advanced students, they close-read excerpts relating to the main characters from both texts. The passages from Macbeth as well as those from Tess of the D'Urbervilles focus on the specific literary devices that I first model. After that, I expect my students to select the passages where they think setting, imagery, and symbols convey characterization, and to analyze them in order to decode the characters of Tess and Macbeth. The specifics on the differentiated instruction for each activity appear in the Lesson Plans section of this unit.
Next, my students will be required to read the excerpts from Macbeth and Tess of the D'Urbervilles I choose and/or they propose twice. During the first close reading, I expect my students to determine the meaning of any unknown words either by using the dictionary and/or the context, and to discuss the eventual difference between denotation and connotation as well as noticing any other literary devices that strike their attention. Since I consider different levels for each class, I include modifications to adjust the activity to the various learning needs. The lowest levels write brief reflections or questions whereas the most advanced group identify, analyze, and discuss the main ideas, tone, purpose, diction, point of view, figurative language, and any other features they deem interesting. For the second close reading of the texts/excerpts they have to write various analytical responses explaining how structure, setting, imagery, and symbolism convey who the character is. An in-depth discussion of the texts/excerpts in comparison with video clips follows. During this discussion, I take notes of my students' reflections I keep posted in the classroom for the entire unit, so they can always refer to for support. After this activity, the AP students have to write a second, more detailed analytical response to the passage we have analyzed.
The unit concludes with the writing of an analytical essay. Specifically, the students have to select two literary devices and explain how Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy have employed them to characterize Macbeth and Tess and to help the reader understand their states of mind. The students choose the passages they will base their analysis on, but they also have to support their observations and assessments with four or more scholarly sources. I deem this requirement extremely important because my students need to learn research and how to select the appropriate quotations in support of their thesis. Of course, this requirement is modeled while I teach to interpret and analyze structure, setting, imagery, and symbolism. The essay has to include a Work Cited page, too.