I haven't written in awhile which does not at all fit in with my original plan, but I've had to really process this one. (That's for you Ali.)
Two weeks ago, my class moved into Romanticism. I always begin by showing "Rip Van Winkle" and discussing the shift from logical thinking to imagination. It's a great introductory lesson. I've used the same lesson for a number of years, and I feel very good about it's purpose and follow through. I haven't ever, however, felt that way about teaching the next piece "The Devil and Tom Walker." I've tried numerous activities and methods to make this story work. The problem is that the students have to read the story - and they rarely do that. None of the activities work unless they read the story. I've tried the CD and had them follow along; I've tried having them read it aloud and/or silently; I've assigned it for homework; I've given pop quizzes; I've given read along guides - NOTHING.
This year, I decided that I was going to try yet another method to teach something I really like to kids that had no interest. I spent hours - literally - looking up different teaching techniques for this story. All to no avail. I had to dig in and rely on my own creativity. The first time period we study is Puritanism with a strong religious focus. While Romanticism is the third time period, it comes pretty quickly on the heels of Puritanism. So, I thought, "Why not let the Devil be a starting point?" I found a couple of video clips from The History Channel's documentary on The Devil and showed them in class. The main concept was that people have been making pacts with The Devil since the beginning of time. We then discussed the Faust legend and recalled recent movies with that same theme. From there, we began reading.
I had them read the first paragraph (which is kind of long) silently while thinking about the focus on the past. Then, I read aloud to them. I pulled out all of the stops - they especially liked my devil voice. I only read a couple of pages to them. Then I stopped reading and told them the next portion of the story. We skipped a page or so of reading!! They then read a few paragraphs on their own. I told the next section, and then I finished reading the story aloud.
NO ONE FELL ASLEEP! Every student that was there understood the story. I was elated. They all said they liked the story. Wow!
At first my English teacher instinct berailed me for not reading every word. I felt some guilt about it; I guess I still do. However, I feel so proud that I kept EVERY kid with me for a 90-minute lesson which was mostly devoted to literature. Usually, I try to pare down my lit lessons to 30 minutes. The nature of this story doesn't allow that luxury. It has to be read in one sitting or the mood of the story is lost.
So, I feel good. I still have it - the ability to re-create lessons to keep the kids interested.
Tune in next time for the next part of the post - A Down, A Let's Try Again.