How will the Common Core shift English-language arts learning in elementary school?
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This is going to be a quick post. There has been a lot going on at work and home, but I wanted to post something to keep this idea going.
Here’s an outline of what I would do on day one of teaching the novel.
I would only be able to do this exercise if I was sure that their history / social studies teacher had already reviewed the material pertaining to life in the German-occupied territories during World War II. Assuming I verified that, then, I would start the session with the bell ringer and then do a debrief. I would ask for any volunteers that wanted to share their writing with the rest of the class and write notes on an easel pad. I would do this for each class I had that day, then post the easel paper on the wall or a bulletin board, so that everyone could see what the classes came up with.
Then, I would show them the novel’s cover. I’d ask them to consider what the cover tells them about the story. I would ask them to write their observations as a group on one sheet of paper and collect those sheets. From the results, I would like to create a Wordle I could share with them. Why? Why not?
I’d ask the question, “What draws us to certain books?” and after the students answer, I would give my responses, particularly about why I chose this book to read. By that time, I think class would be over.
Teachers: Have you ever tried to teach a novel without reading it first? Well, I’m going to try to, but since I’m not teaching at the moment, I will have to pretend. Visualization exercises are always good for lesson planning, right?
The novel I have chosen is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck. I heard about this novel as I was listening to the audio version of the biography of Winston Churchill called The Last Lion (Manchester & Reid, 2012). Apparently, Churchill was quite pleased with the novel and found it inspirational. I have this quote that is similar to what Manchester and Reid said about the book in their work.
While some American critics faulted the novel for its sympathetic portrayals of Nazi soldiers, the book was widely popular in Europe. The Moon is Down was reprinted in French and distributed by the resistance fighters of the Maquis. These were books printed under the very noses of the Gestapo. It was also banned in Italy, where the penalty for reading the book was death.
Yet its message resonated. The plot device of the Mayor’s request for explosives to be air dropped so that the townsfolk can wreck the mine and the railroad — a sabotage campaign that he understands in advance will lead to his death — was noticed by Winston Churchill himself. After reading The Moon Is Down, Churchill ordered the Special Operations Executive to explore this idea and it became the basis of Operation Braddock, a British sabotage and propaganda campaign. Not bad for a mere work of fiction, turned out by a man who had never lived through the events he described (Dutchman6, 2009).
Because it inspired Churchill, I think this novel is a great complement to any studies of World War II in history classes. I would (if I were teaching) coordinate the teaching of the novel with the time in which the students are studying WWII. I would not read it beforehand, however. I’ve been chomping at the bit, as they say, since I first got the book, but wanted to read it as I write these posts so that my lesson is more authentic.
I believe that a big part of teaching is modeling the behavior and practices that we think will best serve our students as they embark on adult life. Therefore, I would like to model what I do when I read a novel for the first time. For instance, I’d like to be able to authentically state why I think this novel is going to be good (I almost wrote “killer”) and what prompted me to order it. Then, I would like to explore this novel with the class without the benefit of reading it first, so we can discover its beauty together. I think the conversations that come out of that reading would be terrific. Sure, I would make mistakes, make bad predictions, all that kind of stuff. But isn’t that all part of reading and learning to read well?
So, in the next post, I will put a lesson plan into place that introduces the novel and its context. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I think I will enjoy writing them.