Iron Teacher: A Separate Peace Submission

If you’ve been following this blog or Tom’s Bionic Teaching blog, you might have run across our Iron Teacher Challenge.  Our first challenge is as follows:

The Audience: 2 classes of 10th grade General Level Literature students.

The Secret Ingredient: The novel “A Separate Peace

The Challenge (as defined by the teacher): Students are beginning a book discussion of the novel “A Separate Peace.” These particular students struggle to demonstrate understanding of content through writing, but have recently become more motivated to read and respond to literature as their teacher has incorporated audio books and modern literature into the curriculum.

The teacher shares that the class performs better when asked to discuss personal experiences and would like to incorporate the book themes of envy/conformity into the book discussions. These students in particular are not easily motivated to participate in class activities. Their teacher is looking for an original and fun way to have the students discuss and share while demonstrating understanding in a way that goes beyond writing an essay or taking a multiple choice test.

Here’s my submission to the challenge.

Discussion starter: How does the narrator’s perspective change the perception of events?
Because the book is told entirely though the voice of Gene, it might be interesting to develop the idea of empathy and how personal perspective can color the perceptions of events.  There are dozens of real world examples of this that would make for good discussion starters including a story from episode 209 of This American Life. Act 1 of the episode, called “Didn’t Ask to Be Born” tells the story of two runaway girls from their own individual perspectives as well as from that of their mother.  When you listen to the story, it becomes apparent that the events they describe take on a different flavor depending on who is describing them.  The story is a pretty harsh one, but I think that for that reason, it will be a good one to get the students talking about events and personal choice.

Activity: How do the events of the novel look through the eyes of another character?
To frame the discussions around the characters’ perspectives in the novel, I’d suggest that the teacher start a blog (or a diary) told from the perspective of Finny.  The initial entry could be written on the evening of Finny’s first jump from the tree:

“What a great summer session this is turning out to be!  I’d thought that Gene wouldn’t do it, but he proved me wrong. Seems he’s got more guts than I gave him credit for.  As for the rest of them, how can they call themselves getting ready for war when they’re not even ready to jump off a tree limb into the water??”

Students would then work individually or in teams to respond to Finny’s posts in the voice of one of the other characters.

I can see the teacher taking this one of three ways.

  1. If there are specific discussion points that are important, then the teacher might want to write from the perspective of Finny for each post while students always write the replies as other characters.  It would give the teacher some control over the discussion and where it goes.
  2. Another suggestion would be to divide up the events of the book and to assign student groups one event to be told in the voice of Finny.  Each group would post their event in the order they occurred in the book and post a reply in the voice of another character to all the other events as they are posted.
  3. You could also mix and match the post perspectives by making the blog a “Devon School” blog and assigning a character to each student group.  Each group would then write one blog post from the perspective of their character while responding to the other blog posts in the voice of their character.

The Iron Why: What’s the justification for this challenge solution?

iThis is the part I’m looking forward to reading from other suggestions to this Iron Teacher Challenge.  Here’s why I think this meets the challenge we were assigned and how I formed the idea.

The first thing I began toying with was the idea that the book was told from only one perspective.  It seemed to me that the concept of perspective should be a part of the book discussion.  Gene’s perspective on the events are colored by his insecurity, jealousy, regret and guilt. How should we see the events if they’re told from only one side?

As I started thinking about the concept of perspective, it seemed that a blog would be a good tool to help students view the events through the eyes of the other characters.  Since a blog is something the students have probably had experience with in their own personal lives, they should have an understanding of a blog as a place to record thoughts and reactions and where others are able to respond and reply to help refine or refute what is written. It also gives students a chance to play the role of Finny’s advocate or adversary with equal impact. Because the students will be writing in first person, I think it will help them to analyze the events of the book in a writing style that should come more naturally to them.

As for evaluation, I’d think it would be pretty simple to create a rubric to assess student writing and to set some minimum guidelines that can help students know what their expectations are.  I’ll add those here if there’s a request to do so, but I hope the general idea I’ve outlined would be a good starter for the teacher to then customize to fit the individual needs of the class.

I’m looking forward to keeping Iron Teacher going and to seeing what others contribute to the challenge.  I’m also hoping that we’ll inspire others to think about original ways to get content across to students.

One thought on “Iron Teacher: A Separate Peace Submission

  1. Glad to see you got it in. Technology issues can be such fun.

    I realized last night/early this morning that’d I’d forgotten to get into my rationale and how I brainstormed. I’ll add those in a separate post.

    I like the idea of different voices in the novel and how that’ll shift perceptions.