Interestingly I am required to teach Monster by Walter Dean Myers as one of the core texts part of the 8
grade curriculum. 46.9 % of the children at my school are African American while the second largest group is Latino. The demographic of incarcerated people in the United States clearly ties to my student’s experiences, and may very well be adding to their ACES scores. “One in 9 black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five was behind bars in 2006, and far more were under some form of penal control—such as probation or parole.”
Because of this reality, it is imperative to understand the prison industrial complex, and the very definition that still legalizes slavery in the United States. In fact when asked if they know someone incarcerated most of the youth will know someone.
Week 1: I will begin by projecting the 13th amendment on the board with the phrase “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” in a much larger font. I will ask my students to deconstruct the amendment--but first, they must understand what it means.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
I will ask my students to identify unknown words, and I will write simpler words above. For example, I am sure
will be a problematic word, and I will simply write “of which.” If they ask about servitude I will write forced labor right above.
After discussing these terms in a discussion, I will have students write their own version of the amendment in their own words. We will come back as a class and discuss what it means and how this may affect them either hypothetically or in reality.
I will then show them a short animated video about the prison industrial complex titled
Mass Incarceration in the US
by www.prisonpolicy.org because it’s necessary to use visuals, technology, and information as a segue to engage my students in literature.
Exit ticket: I will have my students write their thoughts and questions about the information we discussed and saw.
Day 2-5: I will give a basic overview about the novel. I will explain that it is written as a screenplay with a few journal entries in the voice of the protagonist Steve Harmon who is an African American child on trial for attempted murder.
I will define the camera angles in the book--for example: Close Ups, Fade In, Fade Out, Cut to, and Voice Over--and I will include samples of these in short snippets of either movies or commercials, easily found on YouTube.
We will have a class discussion and I will ask students why Steve may be telling the story in this manner? Why is the author writing the narrative in this manner?
How do you think Steve feels?
Writing exercise: I will use a theatre method called “Circles of Attention” by Constatin Stanislavski, a Russian actor and teacher. There are three realities in these circles of awareness. There is a small, medium, and large one. This allows the students to tap into their emotional memory and personalize the learning. The student will write from three spaces/voices. I will make sure to draw an organizer on the board showing a stick figure in the middle within the three layered circles.
The first space is a small circle. The student will explain what it is like to be on trial for such a serious crime. I will ask them to describe how their bodies feel, and what is on their mind.
The middle circle will be when students describe the effects of their situation on immediate people in their surrounding. How will their parents and siblings feel? How will they react? What will they say and do?
The third large circle represents how the community will react. What will their teachers, neighbors, and even the city say? What if they are written about in a newspaper? How is the big circle going to react? I will ask them to make connections to the videos we saw the day before and potentially use language from the 13th amendment or the video.
I believe this activity may take about two days to complete. I will introduce dialogue in this section. I will ask students to be authentic in what their smaller circles will actually speak. I will also ask them to write as the people in the middle circle. How may neighbors describe them, and how may teachers describe them? I will ask them to pay attention to language. For the last circle I will ask them to pay close attention to the language used to describe them on the news or the newspaper. I will ask them to focus on rhetoric being used. How does this language make them feel or shape the view of themselves? How does power play a role in the language that is used?
After this written exploration, I will group kids in groups of three. I will have them determine who will share out (present) to the class on one of the three circles. For example, whoever has the strongest small circle writing will represent that circle in the performance. They will have to add information at this point if needed. They will also have a phrase that they will repeat in a whispered manner as the other group member is reading their circle. This phrase will come from their writing. For example, the phrase could be “she cannot be guilty” as the voice of a mother would sound when speaking of her child. The phrase could be, “guilty as charged,” in the voice of a judge. Whatever the phrase is, it will come from their explorations with the “Circles of Attention.” I will have the children share out in front of the class standing in three different parts of the room. I will guide them into creating short performances. If they are comfortable they may create a beat, or a movement, or sing their repetitive phrase.
This activity will not happen early in the school year because trust has to be established, and a safe space has to be claimed by all participants. I believe it will happen when we have a bond beginning to build and where my classroom expectations have been reinforced. I have seen it performed by educators, and the results were phenomenal, so I hope to inspire movement, creativity and literacy simultaneously through this theatrical exercise.