Note: This unit is still in progress. The lessons included are lessons that I have taught so far, but I plan on teaching more and trying new techniques and activities.
To start off this unit, I asked my students to complete a few low stakes writing assignments centered around thinking about important events in their own lives. Because Absolutely True Diary is semi-autobiographical and their final project for this unit is going to be a narrative of an event in their own lives, I asked my students first to think about three words that they would describe themselves with, and then from there, I asked my students to consider if they were writing out the story of their own lives, how would they want to start it? After they wrote, we read the first chapter of Absolutely True Diary and the students then talked about how Junior, the main character, introduces the audience to the story of his life. From there, students connected what they wrote to the story, and for homework, had the option of rewriting what they had written before.
Because this novel has many illustrations, I designed a lesson centered around image analysis. In creating this lesson, I also hoped that image analysis would be a jumping off point for deeper literary analysis. In other words, I was hoping that I could help scaffold literary analysis and make it more accessible by having my students first consider how to analyze images. I took different pictures from what we had read so far and taped them up around the room, asking students to look at each one in a gallery walk style, and fill out a chart with their observations (labeled “What I see”) and their inferences (labelled “What I think it means”). I had filled out one for them and we did a second one together before the students completed the rest of the activity on their own. After this, we discussed all of the images together as a class, and were able to have some deep conversations about some of the themes that the students had noticed so far in the reading. This was an incredibly successful lesson activity that I hope to try again in the future.
For awhile, we had been reading the novel together as a class, popcorn style, but I found that many students were reading on ahead, asking me if they could borrow copies to read more at home. Since I did not want to discourage their reading in any way, I came up with a Mindful Reading day. In keeping with our Mindful Mondays, which included extended periods of mindfulness and more discussion about how we could be more mindful, I introduced Mindful Reading to the class as a different way of looking at close reading. Instead of reading fast and skipping over important details in order to find out what happens next, Mindful Reading asked students to stop and take notes or pull out important quotes as they went along. We had Mindful Reading days where I organized the desks facing away from each other (a technique I borrowed from Meghan Rosa!) and with a checklist agenda placed on each desk. During Mindful Reading days, I assign seats, and play relaxing music or white noise in the background to help students stay focused on what they are doing. This also discourages side conversations as I can remind them that we would rather hear the music than their voices when we are trying to read silently!
For this unit, I designed Book Clubs, based on a survey that I did asking students whom they felt they worked well with and whom they should not be working with. I took all of their responses into account (noting that some had requested to work with their friends, but that many had acknowledged that they did not work as well with some of their closer friends). After designing the groups, I had the students pick their book group roles and decide what rules they would want to follow together as a book group. During the next few lessons, the groups read together, and during this lesson in particular, the students completed a Save the Last Word Activity. For this activity, the students were supposed to have selected two quotes, one that best described who Junior is and one that best described what his life is like. I asked the students to note down why they chose these quotes, and then during the activity, the students were supposed to share their quote and take turns discussing the importance of the quote. Looking back, I could have structured this assignment a lot better to ensure that the students had a deeper quality instruction, and I had them get right to work without any modeling of how they could discuss their quotes. In future lessons, I may try this activity again, but first with some more modeling on how to more effectively discuss the quotes that they chose.
For this lesson, I wanted to try a variation on a Socratic Seminar that gave my students practice in having effective discussions in their Book Club groups. I asked one Book Club from each class to be the inner circle of the Socratic Seminar, giving them 7 minutes to discuss a particular question while the rest of the class had a worksheet to fill in to be actively listening. Though this lesson was somewhat effective in both classes (more so in one class than the other), I found that it was taking a long time for us to set up this activity and for us to transition in between inner circle discussion and outer circle sharing their observations. Thus, I have moved on from this activity to other lessons and other activities, though I may return to this activity with different Book Club groups in the inner circle discussing different questions in the future.