This blog post is an example of a lesson assignment I would give if I flipped my classroom while we studied The Great Gatsby.
After studying the lost generation and other cultural issues related to the novel, we would need to start reading. I believe reading aloud in class is a good strategy and would want to do that in class. However, chapter one of the novel is quite daunting, so I would prepare my students to conquer chapter one with an activity that combines reading with vocabulary attack strategies.
Their preparation activity would be to go through the following Prezi, so they would know what we were going to do in class over the next two or three days. Please note that I converted my text to speech for the Prezi below because it is 4:54 AM and my family is sleeping as I write this post, so I could not record my voice without waking them. Perhaps at some point I will replace the voice over, but do not have time at the moment. There may be some pronunciation or cadence issues.
In class, we would follow this procedure. The students would practice valuable skills (namely, deciphering words that are unknown to them within context) as they read (and re-read) chapter one. The entire activity is authentic, in my opinion, as students will encounter unknown words throughout their lives and need to know that going to the dictionary is not always the best first step.
While they are working on vocabulary and comprehension, I would have many opportunities to assess the students through observation and discussion. I could modify approaches based on the students’ needs by scaffolding the activity with teacher and peer support as necessary.
They say that Abraham Lincoln had quite a temper. He would dash off letters in his anger and, by the time he had finished, his anger spent, he would think twice about dispatching it and place it on the mantle instead. He would wait until the morning, reevaluate his position and, if it was still warranted in his mind, then he would send the letter. Imagine if he had a smart phone and Twitter? He may have indeed tweeted: “If McClellan isn’t interested in using the army at present, perhaps I could borrow it for a while?” What would the Confederacy have made of that breakdown of command in the North?
I digress. My point is that today we have the ability to communicate so easily that many of us end up saying things we regret later. Our responsibilities in this area have increased many times over from the time in which verbal communications reigned and others were secondary. Before we click on send, tweet, or any other button that supports communication with the outside world, we need to think hard about the consequences.
The problem is, many of us don’t. We spread rumors, say hurtful things, and generally make fools of ourselves because we don’t have those few minutes that we used to have. We can’t put a tweet on the mantle till morning. (Actually, we can, but that’s aside from the point because many of us don’t use Buffer or schedule tweets through TweetDeck or Hootsuite.) Google or other search engines cache the communication and it’s out there forever, haunting us.
Part of the responsibilities of a teacher is to teach citizenship. These days, that includes digital citizenship, the rights and responsibilities that relate to our communications and interactions on the Internet and via digital means of any sort. There are many ways to teach digital citizenship. For this post, I would like to teach it within the context of the novel unit I’ve been working on, The Great Gatsby. Why not?
Rumors, Innuendo, and a Literary Time Machine
It would be nice to take a Friday and have the students work together on an assignment like this.
Imagine that a literary time machine has transported the Gatsby characters to the present and provided them with the tools they would need to navigate and interact in the digital space (smart phones, twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, etc.). How might the events of the novel be different? Let’s focus on the rumors and innuendo spread about Gatsby in the novel.
Create a twitter stream regarding Gatsby, his history, and his profession, using the information in the novel. Predict what would happen to Gatsby legally or regarding Daisy.
What are the effects of such rapid communication on the reputation of others, the development of stories (true or false), and the resolution of investigations? Do you remember that a news reporter came to Gatsby’s house for a comment on the rumors he’d heard? What might that reporter have done with a twitter stream or a Facebook conversation? What if he were a news reporter and brought the ‘story’ to television, complete with photos of Gatsby and interviews with ‘sources’?
Write your opinion of the use of these technologies today, the rights we have to free speech (even gossip), and our responsibilities as digital citizens.
It’s my belief that this assignment is a good extension of the study of the novel into a new context: our culture. It reminds me of the time that a friend of mine had her students rewrite the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet using text messages. The students took to that assignment with earnest, and produced some absolutely stunning results that demonstrated understanding of the young lovers’ relationship. I would hope that this assignment would help students gain a new appreciation of the main character and the impact of communications today. I would also hope they would think twice before pushing send, tweet, or post.
One of the issues with teaching this novel is that it is hard to establish relevancy for today’s learners. We want them to take away some sort of information or philosophy from the novel, but often (I think) students feel that they cannot connect to the characters and story Fitzgerald produced. As part of a unit on the novel, I’d like to introduce some Essential Questions or Driving Questions that would put the reading in perspective. I sort of did that the first time that I tried to teach this novel, but not to my liking.
The anticipatory set or advance organizer would include a frank discussion about the lost generation of the ’20s and Fitzgerald’s biography. There is a terrific quote from A Moveable Feast by Hemingway (1996) that introduces us to the term ‘lost generation,’ which was coined by Gertrude Stein. Stein told Hemingway that folks who served in the war (World War I) were all a ‘lost generation’; she cited their drinking habits as an example of how the veterans have disconnected themselves from every day life. Hemingway responded in the text by saying that he decided upon reflection that all generations are lost in one way or another. He added at the end of that reflection: “But to hell with her lost-generation talk and all the dirty, easy labels” (pp. 30-31). Still, he later used the term in The Sun Also Rises.
I would ask the students the following questions.
“Do you agree that every generation is lost in some way or another? What are the characteristics of a generation that is lost? Extend your answer beyond alcoholism; consider other characteristics.”
“How might the term ‘lost generation’ apply to the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?”
“How can we help and support those who are lost?”
Then, we could watch a video I found about Fitzgerald. The students really enjoyed it when I showed it during pre-service (Vanderveen, 2005). Afterward, I would ask the following question.
“Although Fitzgerald did not serve in the war, in what ways did he demonstrate inclusion in the lost generation?”
“Do you know someone like Fitzgerald? How might you help that person?”
These questions, I would explain, should put this novel into context. I would post them in the classroom and online in a prominent place.
The Pennsylvania standards that I used before would still apply (“Clear Standards”, 2010)
Standard – 1.1.12.A: Apply appropriate strategies to construct meaning through interpretation and to analyze and evaluate author’s use of techniques and elements of fiction and non-fiction for rhetorical and aesthetic purposes.
Standard – 1.3.12.A: Interpret significant works from various forms of literature to make deeper and subtler interpretations of the meaning of text. Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period.
Standard – 1.3.12.C:
Analyze the effectiveness of literary elements used by authors in various genres.
Analyze the author’s development of complex characters as well as their roles and functions in a variety of texts.
Determine the effectiveness of setting as related to character, plot, theme, and other key literary elements.
Determine the effectiveness of the author’s use of point of view as related to content and specific types of genre.
Analyze how the author structures plot to advance the action.
Identify major themes in literature, comparing and contrasting how they are developed across and variety of genres.
Explain how voice and choice of speaker affect the mood, tone, and meaning of text.
Describe how an author, through the use of diction, syntax, figurative language, sentence variety, etc., achieves style.
1.5.12.C: Write with controlled and/or subtle organization.
Establish coherence within and among paragraphs through effective transitions, parallel structures, and similar writing techniques.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2 Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
Keeping the questions in mind during our reading will help us to segue to the culmination of the unit. After a summative assessment of the text, I would like the students to collaborate on a project in which the result is a web site of resources (not just links, but articles, case studies, surveys, self-assessments, etc.) for those of a ‘lost generation.’ It would be something like what Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have tried to do for veterans. One of the blog posts they would write (independently) would be about why they are doing this and how it relates to their study of Gatsby.
Grouping: Heterogeneous grouping of 3-4 students
Method: Jigsaw approach with clearly defined roles and responsibilities
Where to publish the website: Google sites could work
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (n.d.). Common Core State Standards Initiative | Home. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Retrieved August 4, 2012, from http://www.corestandards.org/
Hemingway, E. (1996). A Moveable Feast. New York, NY: Scribner.