9th grade is a pretty canonical year for a Literature class. Maybe it’s an attempt to hook ’em with the good stuff early on (you know, like drug dealers) but as far as required reading goes, high school freshmen get some choice product: The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and the motherlode, To Kill a Mockingbird.
It’s unusual, but I’ve encountered all three of these works in the past few school days and thought I’d share a little with you, the reader. Yes, you. The only person who reads this thing.
Last semester, my fourth period finished The Odyssey way ahead of my other classes (it’s longer because of lunch, but I’m also convinced they’re just a better batch of kids). To stall them from moving to something else, and to indulge my own sensibilities, I had them make their own movie version of the epic. With a little guidance from me, they crafted a really clever abbreviated version of the whole story, using a newscaster as a bridge between key events.
They divided the work up as evenly as they could. Two girls wrote the script. A team a boys learned how to work a video camera. Others made cue cards, brought in props, or memorized lines. One girl’s only job was to quiet everyone down before shooting scenes. Some students took a less involved role, but it really felt like a team effort.
When I showed the class the finished project (editing the video was the only thing I did all on my own, and it took forever), everyone flipped out. They laughed at themselves on screen, cheered and applauded when it was over. I was proud that we managed to make a movie, but equally impressed that they got so much out of the source material.
[I’d post the video here, but I’m gonna respect my kids’ privacy and not share their cuteness with anyone]
Romeo and Juliet
This is definitely the hardest text to teach freshmen. I’ve only done it once so far, but I feel like I’ll be seeing the same confused, frustrated faces on students for years to come. The language is so dense and confusing, it’s hard to convince the kids of its value. I hear about super-teachers getting their students to love Shakespeare, getting them to perform it, and I’m amazed. Maybe they have more of a passion for the works than I do, but I was lucky to get through the thing with my students and have them at least partially understand the plot.
To Kill a Mockingbird
One of my favorite books. Honestly. I’m in the middle of a couple of other novels right now, but when I started to re-read TKaM to prepare for class, all other books just seem like horse vomit now. The themes are so pervasive and well developed. The voice is perfect. The plot comes together flawlessly. I totally understand why Harper Lee never wrote another book; you can’t improve upon perfection.
Naturally, I’m a bit more excited to teach this one than Shakespeare, and I think my enthusiasm will show in the lessons. Today I asked them if I had mentioned that this is the best book ever written and I got “only like 5 times so far.” It’s long, so I hope I can squeeze in some of the things I want to explore with it. I’ll keep you posted, hopefully.