I am lucky to be working in a district with a rigorous curriculum that allows students to apply their learning past the classroom doors into their personal lives. Our final unit’s essential question has been revolving around how we as humans make sense of our reality, and if it is something chosen or forced upon us by outside factors. This has been such a fun unit to teach; I really have been able to see those elusive “light-blub” moments with students who struggle with school and reading daily.
In order to facilitate discussion and apply this understanding to their own lives, I used multicultural and international memoirs or memoir-like novels to facilitate literature circles. The beauty of using global literature is that the multiple perspectives allows students an open window to different parts of the world in which they have limited exposure. This is especially true with my students making up a primarily Hispanic and African-American demographic. The novels and paired excerpts I selected promoted intercultural understandings and global perspectives on issues students had little to no experience with. I chose the following texts and global issues for the students to explore:
The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz (The Berlin Wall, East Germany DDR)
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Sudanese Lost Boys, Water Crisis)
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (Holocaust)
Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren (Holocaust)
Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers (Harlem Renaissance)
Within Reach: My Everest Story by Mark Pfetzer and Jack Galvin (Into Thin Air Tragedy)
I also pulled in excerpts from the following texts to facilitate class discussion and make connections between the groups’ different novels:
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
One Step at a Time: Memoir by Anant Vinjamoori
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This was such an exciting experience for me; I love hearing students discuss what they are reading and work collaboratively to come to mutual understandings. As many of my colleagues know, my biggest goal is to try and teach students to love to read. If I have done that, then I feel I have done my job to the best of my abilities.
I took a different approach to teaching literature circles this round. Usually, I assign students jobs that rotate and have them complete a very structured conversation around the jobs as they discuss the novels. This time, I guided the groups giving myself much less control than I am used to. I had students complete a small daily task and bring an open-ended question to group meeting time. I was nervous that discussion was not going to be fluid or plentiful, however I was surprised when I was having to cut off groups after fifteen to twenty minutes of meeting time. Students were genuinely talking about their books, what they found interesting, and grappling with bigger questions and issues regarding their character’s reality.
My students’ exploration of how their characters in the novels and the excerpts made sense of their reality allowed for application into their own lives. Students, at the end of the unit, were able to identify influencers on their own reality and if they chose those influencers or if those were imposed upon their lives by outside factors.