One semester to cram in every text they should have read before they go to college.
But I know that's impossible.
So, I started with the end in mind. What is it that I wanted them to know and be able to do when they left my class.
These are my notes from my summer of reading and planning---notice my "ultimate goal". "To get students to think for themselves."
That was, and continues to be, what I want from my students. This semester, I have a small class of ten students. Eight girls and two boys. All good students. All students I've had before in various other classes and activities.
We begin our semester with the essential question, "Why do we need things in books?" This question actually comes from Neil Gaimon's introduction to the sixtieth anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451, and, not so coincidently, the first book we read. We talk about that question and I get stock answers--to learn things, because we have to, for enjoyment, etc. Not the answers I am looking for, but it's a start.
We start the year with Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and I want them to think as we read--
- think about a world without books
- think about their education
- think about the technology in their lives
But these are high school kids used to vocabulary sheets and comprehension questions (and I am as guilty as anyone), so I have to move slow.
I assign the book in three sections. After each section, we discuss. The first discussions in this class are not what this literature loving teacher wants, but I know it takes baby steps. We begin, usually with comprehension questions--the I don't understand this part kind of questions.
It's OK. I know they are reading.
Fahrenheit 451 is the only book that I hand out questions for. Some are comprehension, but others require them to think about what they've read and they lead us into some pretty good discussions. What do you think about school in the book? How is it like ours--or not like ours? What do you want from your teachers and your education? What book would you try to memorize?
Most of the time, the answers were a little shallow, but they did show that kids were thinking about what we were reading and that's what I really wanted at the beginning of the year. They did a wonderful job discussing characters and the motivations of those characters.
But it wasn't enough and I needed to push them further.
This happened when we began reading Night by Elie Wiesel.