The unit will focus on the five essential philosophies of the biography. The principles were developed through our Yale New Haven Teachers' Institute discussions this summer. They are as follows: the origin of the author, the selection of events, the perspectives of the author and subject, the archival history, and the audience.
At the introduction of the unit, the students will be asked to write about who they are and where they came from. This activity will allow students to describe his or her character traits using adjectives to describe friends, family, and his or her self. This is the first stage to writing, learning about the author without explicitly stating it. I would like to see students bring in objects and show the class something that represents them, while the others guess what significance it may have to the person. What does the object tell about the person? What does the picture show about where the student grew up, or what their brothers or sisters' ages are? The students in the classroom can jot down or write about the person who is presenting without being aware of what the person is really like. The person does not have to say anything but show his or objects and the audience will know what his or her life is made up of.
The selective process of the biography is the second stage whereby the student will choose to write about an event or a brief episode in time to illustrate the importance of the event. In this stage, the student learns that the author must decide what the most significant event is to focus on because not every single event is depicted within a biography. The author learns early on that he or she must select only major events to portray otherwise the biography would be millions of pages long. Here, the students will be asked to write a five paragraph expository essay explaining an important event that happened in their life and give three reasons why it was significant.
The third stage is showing that no two perspectives are the same. The relationship between the author and the subject's views are different. Two students will be asked to compose a biography of one other student in the classroom, and then compare the essays looking at how the essays are similar and different to each other. Students will interview the candidates and ask questions to focus on for their own biographies and see how the essays are an accurate portrayal of the person. Students will get a first–hand look at bias is an area where students will get a firsthand look, at how one perspective is very different than another's perspective.
The last two stages will center on the sources of the information as well as the audience. A lot of times, information that is left behind and placed into biographies are based on items, documents, papers, or journals. The students will learn that items kept from when the person was younger, tells some things about who the person is, but it does not provide much more information, thus requiring the author to rely on assumptions of what the item might have stood for. The students will be asked to write about an item that they will leave behind, and pretend that it was dug up one hundred years from now; what would the item say about them? Lastly, the idea of audience will be discussed. Who are the students writing for? Are they writing for an unknown audience or for their classmates? My students will make this choice themselves. I would also like for them to present their written work in front of another class, so they can practice fluency and clarity. I want the students to "have fun" learning about the biography, because too often they think it "boring". If I can get the students engaged in writing their own biographies and autobiographies, then maybe they will change their minds.
Although the five principles are essential to teach, I would like to explore the idea of exaggeration within the biography of "playing around" with boundaries. How much can one exaggerate? Will the students stretch realities, or will they keep the information they give very straightforward, or will they do both? I would also like to explore how far the students' imaginations extend when discussing the archival stage of the biography. Will some students find it interesting to take an object and try to imagine all of the details that surround it? Is there a limit to what pieces of evidence the item has to offer, or will the students just base their assumptions solely on what is present, involving no imagination at all?