Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On teaching Brave New World

First time I read BNW, I was in OAC. It wasn’t assigned, but we had to write a comparative essay for ENG and I chose two books not on the syllabus: the one by Huxley & the one by Orwell. Why?
The teacher pissed me off;
When I rocked my Gatsby essay
He cried plagiarism.
(I taught haikus in week one.)

The teacher was way off Gatsby, mystified by my literary magic, probs. Still, I had to show the dude I was legit: I read and LEARNED two books I chose myself; I prewrote, drafted, rewrote, revised, edited, and proofread (and this was before Joan taught me about The Writing Process); and thesaurus-ed the shit out of every paragraph. I got a 90. (The bastard had never even seen the term Dystopia before my essay!)

(Somehow, we never discussed the Piss the Kid Off Motivational Strategy in teacher’s college Psych.)

I re-read BNW recently cause I’m teaching it to grade 11s. IT’S AWESOME and if you’ve never read it, oh, man, come on, JUST READ IT.

Here’s some of the stuff we’ve been doing in class:

1. Here's the opening lesson, basically:
I played “Imagine” by John Lennon, i.e., Das Kapital in C Major.
I said: “No countries. No possessions. No religion. Nothing to kill or die for. No greed or hunger. All the people, living life in peace, for today, as one. You like?”
They said: “Yeah, we like.”
“How about, 'A brotherhood of man'?”
“How about if I say,'Everyone belongs to everyone else.’”
“We can dig that.”
Brave New World presents a world where everyone is happy. All they’ve given up is truth and freedom. Let's begin.”

2. We’re using a Literature Circle format. Yes, it works for Grade 11, too.

3. I summarize every chapter, orally, every day, checking for understanding the whole time. This is basically my version of Differentiated Instruction.

4. The final project is an essay. I woulda gone for something more creative, but these kids have never been taught how to write a Five-Paragraph (School) Essay With Thesis Statement, and I found the Five-Paragraph (School )Essay With Thesis Statement useful when I was being educated.

5. I did a lesson on Developing Essay Topics. At the end, a kid asked, “Are we going to get to choose our own topics, or are you going to give them to us?”
“You’re going to choose your own.”
Go Nancie Atwell.

6. We read an article about genetic engineering in today’s world and then I asked the kids to write about whether or not they would modify their own kids. Two said yes, two said no.

7. I asked the kids to consider whether or not the World State is ethical, using Utilitarianism and the Categorical Imperative as their lenses. Dunno if they found the topic interesting, but I sure as hell did.

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