I am trying to introduce nonfiction text with each novel that we are reading in 9th grade English this year. It is not always easy because I have to substitute the time we would use for close reading of novel passages to cover the nonfiction texts that complement the novel. I always feel short of time to cover all that I need to cover.
I like to think of Mortimer Adler’s quote when I am stressed that my class may not cover all required readings for the year. This quote becomes my litany to allow myself and my class to enjoy the novel and absorb it slowly as we spend time considering the significance of specific words, sentences structure, meaningful paragraphs, and thematic chapters in the novel.
We are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM), and I have selected key passages to delve into to and connect to nonfiction text. We read the start of Chapter 4 in which Scout deliberates over the inadequacies of the Alabama education system. Students understood the themes present in the passage as they identified with Scout’s description of “endless Projects” and her account of “inch[ing] sluggishly along.” We also looked up educator John Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System to understand the allusions and references to “Group Dynamics.”
After exploring the passage and discussing its purpose and tone, we related the chapter to an excerpt from Malcolm X’s autobiography called “Learning to Read.” Although, we read a longer excerpt than the one I have linked. First, students looked at the date that Malcolm X was born. They quickly realized that it was most likely the same year that Scout was born. We discussed the difference and similarities between our fictional white protagonist and what we could infer about a young Malcolm X. The discussion was rich as I watched my students make connections with the novel and the life of Malcolm X. We discussed the irony of Malcolm X’s new world of learning opening as he served a prison sentence.
I plan to continue adding pieces to the education theme. I have asked students to keep their notes, and we will create a class Google Doc next week so that they can compile what they have learned from our class discussions to share with one another. We watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks video “Schools Kill Creativity.” Students took notes on the video, and we discussed major points of Robinson’s presentation. I am leading up to a synthesis essay in which I will ask students to pull from all of the sources we have used to write about the relevance of their education in today’s world. With all of the 21st Century jargon and discussion on the web of how education must change, and we are cheating our children, I would like their opinion. I think it will be interesting to find out what they have to say.
For once, my students who do not like to read are actually perking up because they may get to fight back by collecting ammunition that is relevant to their lives and frustrations with school… and just maybe I can get them to think critically, read closely, and produce great writing.