My Grade 12 English class is two weeks into a unit that uses Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz as its main text, and “What is important in life?” as its guiding question. At the end of this unit, I am expecting students to submit essays that reflect their learning and thinking processes.
Rather than starting with the five-paragraph essay form and shoehorning their ideas into that, however, students are going to test their ideas in a form that is both exploratory and fun: one option for them will be the scripted dialogue. So, we practiced.
To begin, students were asked to imagine a conversation between Duddy and his dead mother, Minnie, and to express it in dramatic script form. (Since we had recently studied An Ideal Husband and Hamlet, students were familiar with the form.)
I offered students some prompts to get them started in their dialogues:
- Mom, guess what I’ve done? You should see me now! You’d be so proud.
- Mom, I’m sorry. I’ve made a few mistakes.
- Mom, tell me about _________. I was too young / I never knew ….
They were then given 50 minutes to create dramatic scripts with opening, stage, and character directions. I explained that it was not a test to see how much they knew about the novel, although I did want to recognize Duddy. Mostly, I wanted them to have fun.
The results were promising.
What Worked Well
- Simple instructions were easily and quickly followed, allowing students to spend their time creating rather than figuring out what I wanted from them.
- Everyone wrote busily and happily for 50 minutes, suggesting that this was a topic and/or form that has a lot of potential for this group.
- Students genuinely explored Duddy’s personality in vulnerable moments, something I doubt I would have seen had I expected them to create a thesis and muster three supporting arguments for it.
- Students are proud of their products and are eager to share their scripts with their classmates. (This is unusual.)
What Needs Work
- The rubric that I’m working with needs to be adjusted to take the focus off of textual knowledge. A few students were too anxious to prove textual knowledge and were sidetracked looking for quotes and minute details.
All told, this was a great exercise in which possible essay topics rose naturally to the surface.