Reading & Writing in the Disciplines
Blended Learning: Acquiring Digital Literacy Skills
Jennifer Roberts discusses the ways in which she incorporates the use of computers into her classroom.
Teacher: Jennifer Roberts
School: Point Loma High School, San Diego, CA
Lesson Topic: Compare two characters from The Cask Of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
Number of Students: 34
Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:
- Content objectives – Compare two characters from The Cask Of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
- Literacy/language objectives – Write an academic paragraph using the language of comparison to compare two characters
- Engagement/interaction objectives – Collaborate with a partner to gather evidence from the text
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
The featured lesson took place on the fifth day of a 22-day unit on comparative analysis. The unit was taught in February during the second semester of the year, which is heavily analytical; the first semester is fiction-based.
Ms. Roberts uses laptop computers in her class on a daily basis with the goal that all students will become digitally literate. She worked collaboratively with a teaching team to design the curriculum that she uses. The featured unit was based on a Common Core exemplar essay in which a student compared the way the character is developed in the movie Whale Rider and in the book Esperanza Rising.
Before the Video
Before this lesson, students had already read the The Cask Of Amontillado and kept a double-entry journal. As they read each segment of the story, they predicted what would happen next and backed up their prediction with text from the story. After that, they completed a close reading of the first three paragraphs.
During the Video
Ms. Roberts begins each class with 10 minutes of independent reading and then presents an overview of the lesson on the class blog. During this lesson, Ms. Roberts asked students to examine and compare two characters from The Cask Of Amontillado: Montresor and Fortunato. This was the first time that she asked them to compare one thing to another. She guided students to find words to describe the characters and to mark the parts of the text that supported their thinking. Using laptop computers, students worked with partners to fill out a graphic organizer to list character traits along with supporting evidence. Students then wrote a formal paragraph comparing the characters, including who the characters are, how they are different, how they are similar, and evidence to support their conclusions. Ms. Roberts offered feedback to students by walking around the room and accessing their writer’s notebooks online.
After the Video
After this lesson, Ms. Roberts began preparing students to compare a short story to a film. At the end of the unit, students compared the techniques Poe used in The Cask of Amontillado to the techniques that Charles Laughton used in Night of the Hunter, which is a 1955 film noir movie. She taught them about the language of film, including lighting, camera angles, and the kinds of things that directors do to create a mood in a scene. She then asked students to create a storyboard for six scenes for their own film version of The Cask of Amontillado. Ms. Roberts showed them an existing 20-minute video of the story and asked them to compare the storyboard they created to what they actually saw in the film.
Students then watched The Night of the Hunter and took notes on the visual choices that Charles Laughton made when he was making that film. Ms. Roberts asked students to compare the things that the director did structurally in the film to the things that Poe did with literary devices in the story, and they wrote an essay with evidence from both the film and the story.
Before the lesson, Ms. Roberts wrote a class blog entry where she organized the materials for the lesson (such as the T-chart template and paragraph frame). The blog entry provided an overview for students; it could also be a resource for students who were absent that day and for curious parents.
Throughout the year, students had practiced writing paragraphs that summarize an “article of the week,” such as a news article, TED talk, or website. Prior to this lesson, they had written a review of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum website. They had been focusing on writing summaries with main ideas and supporting details but had not yet worked on comparative writing.
Ms. Roberts provided various scaffolds that students could choose to use. For example, the T-chart template provided a way for students to organize their thinking and collect evidence. After filling out the chart, students could more easily write a paragraph because all of their information was already assembled and they would not have to pause their thinking process to look up a quote. In addition, words and phrases for writing compare and contrast statements were posted in the room. For those students who needed more support, she provided a list of character traits. She also supplied a paragraph frame that students could use for reference while writing their own paragraph to compare the characters. If students were not able to complete the assignment during class, they could finish it at home.
Ms. Roberts prefers for students to work in partners so that they have to talk to each other about their choices for evidence. She encourages students to remember that the task is not a competition; if a student wants to use a piece of evidence that his or her neighbor found, that is allowed.
Resources and Tools
- The Cask Of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
- T-Chart: Montresor and Fortunato Paragraph handout
- List of character traits
- Class blog
- Google Docs
Ms. Roberts assessed student understanding throughout the lesson in multiple ways. She engaged students with questioning, walked around the classroom to see what they had written and annotated on their screens, listened to their conversations, and accessed their writing journals online. Because all of their documents are shared with her on Google Docs, she can flip through them during class to see how students are doing and offer immediate feedback.
Students were able to self-assess by discussion with their peers and with Ms. Roberts. When students were asked if there was anything that helped them write the paragraph, they recognized that the T-chart was helpful in organizing their thinking.
Ms. Roberts assessed students through questioning and by reading their notes and finished paragraphs. Because the featured lesson was students’ first experience with comparison writing about literature, Ms. Roberts expected that not all of them would be immediately successful. Ms. Roberts considered the lesson a formative assessment that would guide her instruction as they moved into a larger comparative writing project.
Impact of Assessment
Students continued to practice comparisons and eventually compared the Poe story to a larger text.
Ms. Roberts can access students’ writing journals at any time to check on student progress and look at their work more closely.