It’s nice when they “get it”….

We are winding down the school year.  There are four more class periods and then finals.  It is a difficult time to concentrate – both for the students and for the teacher.  That is why I try to structure my end-of-the-year lessons with some low-key educational activities.

For example, my British Literature classes turned in their final research project on April 12.  Since that time we have been listening to oral presentations of their reports, which consisted of a biographical research portion of a British author of choice followed by an in-depth literary analysis of one of his/her famous works.  My purpose for this activity is three-fold:

  1. Give the students the experience to speak in front of a group for longer than 30 seconds (they are required to talk for a minimum of 15 minutes plus answer any questions classmates may have)
  2. Allow the teacher to hear what the student learned, just in case the writing sample is not clear (it helps greatly if I know ahead of time what they are “trying to say” – so that I can offer constructive feedback on the essay)
  3. Introduce a variety of British authors to students that we do not have an opportunity to study in class.
I have noticed that some students are starting to come into the room glassy-eyed and their attention span seems to be waning with each successive presentation.  I was beginning to wonder if this exercise was worthwhile, or perhaps I should consider scrapping the oral presentations next year and add another novel study.
Then, an amazing thing happened after class on Wednesday.  A group of 5 or 6 students gathered together and began talking about the most recent presentation.  They still had questions over Oscar Wilde and his famous work, Picture of Dorian Gray (who wouldn’t).  One student volunteered that she was going to read it over the summer.  Then another student said that they were fascinated by the Wuthering Heights presentation and wanted to read that novel over the summer.  A third student volunteered that she has already downloaded Picture of Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to her iPod and plans to read them “on the go.”  
In discussing the presentations they all agreed that they truly enjoyed the chronological presentation of the reports (I made them present in the order in which the work was published, not necessarily in the order of the author’s birth date).  They shared how they have truly seen the progression of thematic development, gender issues, and social class issues over the centuries.
This eventually led to literary analysis in general and one student shared how she has been forever changed in the way she reads books.  She no longer is a passive reader, but rather, she is constantly trying to make connections, discover foreshadowing, and deciphering possible symbolism.  Many of them agreed.
I just sat back in awe.  They GOT IT.  They totally understood the point of this exercise and they have grown the wiser for it.  So while not all students were able to grasp the true meaning behind this low key lesson plan, a few did, and that makes it all worth while.


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