“What can you expect from To Kill a Mockingbird?”
For my third field experience, I was stationed at Marymount Academy International, an English-Speaking Secondary School situated in Montreal, Quebec. The school offers an International Baccalaureate program, catering to a diverse demographic of local and international students. As I had previously been situated at this school for my second field experience, I entered the school with a holistic knowledge of the school culture, staff, and students.
For this field experience, I was expected to facilitate lessons for two grade levels – Secondary 4 (Gr. 10) and 5 (Gr. 11). In particular, the students of the Secondary 5 group expected me to prepare them towards their end-of-the-year Ministry Exams. Knowing that I was in charge of educating these students in preparation for a mandated Ministry Exam, I was initially nervous and frustrated. However, through constant reflections and collaborative planning with my Cooperating Teacher, fellow student teachers, and other teachers of the school, I created engaging, diverse lessons for students to obtain the skills they aimed towards.
The Secondary 5 students’ semester comprised of two units – Short Stories and a Novel Study on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. With respect to the Novel Study Unit, I had a solid idea of how to progress the novel prior to starting the unit. My frustration was not in progressing through the book – it was in introducing the book to the kids. In my experience as a high school student, I remembered plowing through numerous novel studies chapter by chapter, for the sake of simply completing the homework. Not once had I ever read an assigned book or completed homework for a specific purpose or goal. After hours of deliberation, I sat down with my Cooperating Teacher and another English Teacher I had formed a rapport with. Our only goal was to devise a lesson where students could be introduced to an old, daunting novel in an innovative, engaging way that instills a purpose in student engagement. Our solution? Collaborative talk groups.
What makes To Kill A Mockingbird a great choice for the classroom is that even in 2016, the novel continues to touch upon glaring social issues that are still extremely relevant in today’s society. Issues of racism, human morality, gender expectations and personal identity are topics that students in today’s society face outside of the classroom, in the real world. The problem did not lie in the novel’s content, rather it was an issue of having students making the connection between a novel written in the 60’s and real world issues that reflect the novel’s thematic components. As a collaborative group, we decided that the best way for students to make this connection was by talking to each other.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
The activity presented a collection of random quotes selected from the novel to groups of students. Sitting in groups of 6, each group received quotes that were specifically chosen because they touch on themes of racism, identity, gender expectations, and human morality. Students received 0 information on the context or background of the novel. All they were given were quotes and a prompt: “What do you think this quote means?”
After receiving time to individually think and collaboratively discuss, students were expected to present their thoughts to the class. Many responses involved current events, such as the #Blacklivesmatter movement and coming out as a gay student in today’s society. Once presented, I proceed to give a brief overview of the novel’s background, characters, as well as its themes. Students were more than surprised to see that all their interpretive answers to these seemingly-random quotes were accurate examples of literary analysis on the novel’s themes.
To conclude the lesson, students viewed an interview of Harper Lee, the novel’s author. Many students of this group expressed that it was hard for them to follow videos during lessons because the people talk too fast and the words fly by them. To ensure differentiation, I provided a transcript of the interview for students to follow. To end the activity, students discussed among themselves if they found similarities between the novel’s themes and the environment the author grew up in. Many students were able to recognize that as a young girl growing up in 1960’s rural Southern United States, the author’s choice to include racism in the novel was not a random decision. To conclude the lesson, students were expected to complete a list of vocabulary (deemed by myself as difficult) of chapter 1 of the novel.
Overall, this lesson provided a great introduction for the students. With 0 background knowledge on the novel, students were still able to attain a holistic understanding of the different themes tackled in the novel. Simply by talking to their classmates about the novel’s quotes, students – on their own – engaged in literary analysis of complex themes.