Friday, April 19, 2013

Fahrenheit 451 Synthesis: Common Core-Style

In my former teaching life, I used to scour the internet for quiz and test questions for the book I was teaching. When I first started teaching Fahrenheit 451, I pulled questions from Sparknotes, such as:

1. Why does Beatty hate books so much?

2. Read the poem “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold. In what ways is it significant that Montag reads this particular poem to Mildred and her friends?

These are both great questions, but frankly... who cares? The old days of multiple-choice tests to assess whether or not students can remember minute details from a novel are gone.

This year, my Sophomore English colleagues (Jessica Magaha, Neil McEachen, and Erika Backs) and I developed an AP-style synthesis prompt that acted as our culminating project for Fahrenheit 451.

The prompt we developed was: Write an essay in which you defend, challenge or qualify the claim that it is in the best interest of the people that the government restrict freedoms.

This is a huge idea; not one that you can find in any textbook or online resource.

While students read the novel, we did close reading of "texture texts" students could use as resources for their argument. The sources included:

Once we were finished studying all of these texts, students were asked to write an argument that synthesized three of the sources, with the requirement that Fahrenheit 451 was used as one of the sources. 

Download the complete assignment here.

We also encouraged students to attempt to qualify the prompt, which was a new way of thinking for them. When you qualify, you take a side while acknowledging that the issue is not black or white. We asked students to use the following template from They Say, I Say for their thesis paragraph:

Template for introducing ongoing discussion:

In discussions of _____, one controversial issues has been _________________. On the one hand, ____________ argues _________________. On the other hand, _____________ contends ______________. Others even maintain ________________. My own view is _________________.

This template forced students to look at multiple perspectives of the issue, and admit that it isn't a simple answer. 

Here is one student's opening paragraph:

In discussions of restrictions of freedoms, one controversial issue has been that the government restricts too many freedoms. On the one hand, Ray Bradbury argues that if the government is too strict and doesn’t allow much freedom, a dystopian society will develop where all individuality is gone. On the other hand, Todd Blodgett contends that the government needs to restrict freedoms or things will get out of control. Leonard Pitts, Jr. even maintains that restricting freedoms like the government does is illogical and can easily get out of control. My own view is that it’s acceptable for the government to restrict freedoms when there’s a threat the country’s safety, but not if that means taking away freedoms given to citizens in the constitution.

From this point, we used the tips from my previous post about getting students engaged in writing: we analyzed a student sample paper, and I wrote in front of them.

Overall, this was a challenging and rigorous assignment. Yes, it may be easier to give a scantron test with 100 multiple choice questions, but this assignment went much deeper into the IDEAS of the novel, and asked students to make connections to contemporary issues.

What are some ways that you are changing the way you teach novels in the era of the Common Core?

1 comment:

  1. I love this. During my student teaching I had the most difficult time getting my students to move past the primary answers and to dig deeper into the text. This would have worked really well with my Animal Farm Unit. I am definitely going to be trying something very similar to this.