Wednesday, November 05, 2008


As part of the history program I'm in through the MNHS and Hamline, I had to be observed by a former teacher who was brought in as part of the new grant for the entire project.

In August we talked about good times to visit. Apparently, I had put down that this week was a good time to visit.

Actually, I had totally forgotten all about it until Glen, the former teacher, showed up. But I think it worked out for the best.

Really, the class was the best of the year.

I had assigned "The Yellow Wallpaper" for my Lit and Language 11 class. To aid them I gave them a list of reader-response starters and assigned them the task of responding to them as they read the story.

I began class with a quiz. To keep them in check, I added at the end of the directions that if they read the directions fully, they could skip the front page and just do the three short answer questions on the back. Only two students noticed it though, so that got us into a discussion right away.

After that, we veered into discussing the story itself. We shared the reader-response starters. Then we connected the story to the schools of literary criticism that we covered last week.

I wasn't sure what Gene was thinking, but I saw him taking notes furiously, so I plowed ahead.

While discussing the story from a postmodern perspective, it came to me that since the story is written as a series of journal entries from an unreliable narrator, I thought it would be interesting to compare that point of view to the hand-held camera point of view in the films The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and most recently, Quarantine.

The students took things from there. I just got out of the way.

Soon, Zach, who hated Quarantine because he didn't like the resolution, launched into why he disliked the film. I told him he'd make a fine formalist, preferring to have a traditionally structured film - basic situation, rising action, climax, falling action, and a resolution.

Countering Zach was Maddy, who loved the film. She proudly carried the torch for postmodernism, claiming that she enjoyed the nontraditional perspective and the disjointed plot structure and unresolved story lines.

Then we talked about Gilman's personal mental breakdown and the accepted medical treatment for depression at the end of the 19th century and how that might relate to the protagonist and her plight in the story.

Other students added their own interpretations, referencing other stories and movies. I also added connections to other stories, movies, and events in history related to our discussion.

In all it went better than I could ever have hoped for.

Gene, who had come up from southern Minnesota, gave me a big compliment when he said that the trip was worth it to sit in on my class.

But, really, the students made the class. I just went along for the ride.

The next day, of course, students wanted to know who he was.

"He was just here to observe me as part of this class I'm taking," I said.

"Oh," Haley said. Gene had sat in her usual seat. "Well, he had a lot of good things written down. I was keeping an eye on his notes for you."

Like I said, the kids made it such a great class.

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