Cultivating Awareness

I know I haven't talked much about what's been going on in the classroom lately. I've been so consumed with work that blogging about anything but it was ions more appealing for a little while.

We just finished The Outsiders and it was an instructional success! The students absolutely adored the novel, as they always do and always will.

Essential Question creation is a place where I expend a lot of brainpower--and for good reason. It's so. . . er, essential to have solid questions that help students go inside a text and explore with a sense of the issues they will encounter. Good E.Q.'s provide students with a much-needed framework from which to dive into their own interpretations of text. I consulted peers, internet sources and my own understanding of what is important in The Outsiders in crafting our E.Q.'s, and I was fairly content with how most of them worked out--not to suggest that they will not be improved upon in the future.

It was clear to me that the students saw the relevance of the questions to the characters, situations, and themes of the novel and we were able to refer to the E.Q.'s at various points in our discussions of the book. It was also clear that my students understood these questions to be investigations of import that connected to their lives and to reality, not just to words on the page. I went with 4 E.Q.'s, partly because I couldn't help my long-winded self and partly because I wanted to experiment and see if 4 was too many--to see which were frivolous and which were substantive. Please feel free to comment on whether or not the E.Q.'s below fit your definition of what E.Q.'s actually are, as it seems that there are as many definitions as teachers I talk to about it. . .
Ok, so they were:

1. How does the balance of power in society influence justice, fairness and relationships?

2. What factors create prejudice and what can individuals do to overcome it?

3. Why is it difficult to grow up and reflect on our lost innocence?

4. What factors contribute to a person's identity?

Most certainly, #3 was the question that ended up being the least-explored over the duration of our reading. And perhaps with good reason. Sure, my students got the whole "Nothing Gold Can Stay" message. They knew exactly what Cherry meant when she told Pony and Johnny that they were "Not innocent. . . seen too much to be innocent. . . just not dirty." And they sure saw the ways in which all of the Greasers--in their own ways--were forced to grow up quick in order to survive. But that's sorta where we departed from E.Q. 3 and headed into the territory covered by E.Q.'s 1 and 2.

The first and fourth E.Q.'s were by far the most successful. I was so pleased with my students' willingness to go inside issues of privilege and power, especially because they seemed keenly aware of their own place in the spectrum of wealth (the side that has lots of it). I thought it would be difficult for them to look at issues the text raises such as access to health care, legal services and social institutions. Quite to the contrary, I saw them looking at the world from new perspectives, thinking critically about access, social class, and wealth and doing so while consciously grappling with their own places within society.

The E.Q. about identity worked well, I think, because it just responds to their developmentally appropriately self-centered selves. The connections to their lives with that one are endless. They see that Pony and Cherry and Johnny, even Bob the Soc and most of the other important characters in the novel are struggling to in one way or another figure out or preserve who they are or want to be as individuals and in relation to the social whole. They are reacting to and learning about the limitations of the social and economic structures already in place. My students are doing the same each and every waking moment. Man, adolescence is tough.

Once we finished the book, I asked them to return to their Anticipation Guide answers and to think about how the book changed the way they thought about someone or something, or the world. Their most-cited world-view change was a shift in the original belief that gang members and criminals are always bad people. Many now believed that they most certainly were not. A monumental shift? Well, for an 8th grader. . . yeah, it kinda is. Moving from black-and-white determinations of the world--often based in their parents' economic, political, and social identities--to a recognition of an off-putting but nonetheless present grey area is HUGE for this age group. It's a crucial step into young adulthood--beginning to not define people as inherently good or bad but rather as people who make decisions that can then be classified according to the context in which they are made. And maybe they're just changing their minds on paper. Maybe my fervent little pro-death-penalty adolescents are feeding me the line that they already knew society would rather hear. Maybe. . . but that's not the impression I got. And regardless of my relative inexperience in the field, my intuition is pretty damn good.


QuakerDave said...

"And regardless of my relative inexperience in the field, my intuition is pretty damn good."

After reading this, my 27 years in the classroom tell me that you're right.

Happy to have landed here.

Mrs. V said...

It sounds like it was a success. It was interesting to read because I am working on framing my EQs for my social justice unit right now, so your ideas really tied in to what I am doing. We also started the year with an identity unit.

Good luck with your next unit!

teach people not books said...

dave-i hope so! consciousness-raising is no small task.

v.-a social justice unit? woo hoo! have you read click clack moo: cows that type? if not you may want to think about picking it up. deals with a basic social justice issue: unionization. i highly recommend it.

teach people not books said...

^^it's a children's book, btw.