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In Search of the Novel
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eight workshops

ten novels
ten novelists
the teachers
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[Teacher-talknovel] video 8 commentary

From: R A <>
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2012 09:01:52 -0800 (PST)
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    In my perfect world, there would be no grading. It’s always been the most difficult aspect of my job. Yet, it is a reality. Even in most jobs, professionals are evaluated on their performance and the grade is often reflected by a dollar sign. How, then, as a teacher, can I assess my students in an authentic way that honors the true value that was inherent in the novel. In video eight, one suggestion was Socratic Seminars. This is a technique I have used for over twenty years and is as old as, well, Socrates. Teaching in a k-8 environment, I have used this at all grade levels very effectively. The beauty of Seminar is that it will vary in its scope, complexity and insightfulness based on the groups who are involved in the discussion. When working with 8th graders reading “The Giver”, one group really became wrapped up in the issue of procreation and the concept of selecting children to serve the society as “birth mothers”. Another group, reading the same novel, didn’t even blink at that, but were most concerned about the fate of elder citizens. The discussions can teach you so much about where your students are developmentally, morally and philosophically. The students also tend to open up about themselves in very unexpected ways. When I taught “Jack and the Beanstalk” to second grade we had an opener “Can a good person do bad things?” Through the discussion, one of my second graders said he didn’t believe in coincidence. He pointed out that the Bean seller had known Jack’s name when he saw him on the road with the cow. He had known Jack’s name, my student said, because his dead father had sent the bean seller TO him to make life easier for him and his mother. Taking those items from the giant was not a crime because God had given Jack a way to get them to help his family. Another second grader retorted that there was no such thing as doing a bad thing for a good reason. The Giant did not go looking for Jack. The boy had stolen all these important things that belonged to the Giant. Stealing that Goose would be like someone breaking in your house and taking your dog. The discussion became lively. When I used this same story for seventh graders, one of the students pointed out that once Jack had procured the gold he already had enough money to start a business that could make his family comfortable forever. He went back, however, and took the Goose. With an endless supply of golden eggs, why did Jack go back for a THIRD foray? GREED! Since that time, I have used “Jack and the Beanstalk as a model story for introducing Seminar with every age level. The discussions are always interesting and it is amazing to watch students turn from pulling for Jack, who has been the historical “good guy”, to empathizing somewhat with the Giant. As a culminating activity, I have the students rewrite the story in the Giant’s perspective. These kinds of assessments give me a much deeper understanding of their comprehension than a traditional test might. As well, it does not hamper students’ creativity or derail their interest in the book.

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Received on Mon Mar 05 2012 - 14:00:19 EST

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