Returning from March Break next week, my Grade 12 students will be participating in Literature Circles to focus on servants & slaves, colonialism & empire, and racism. In discussion groups of five, students will use either Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to prepare a portfolio of their learning. Individually, students will prepare a narrative essay of the reading experience.
Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones. (Jane Eyre, 362)
Before assigning groups and distributing novels, I hope to show highlights from Amazing Grace (the film about British abolitionist William Wilberforce), read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, watch Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream, and watch Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address: not for in-depth study, but simply to have this prolonged abolitionist timeline as the backdrop to this novel unit.
Reflective Blogging (Reading Notes)
Because students will be living within only one of the above narratives, analysing relationships between characters in order to determine Pre-Victorian and Victorian perceptions and misconceptions of slavery, servitude, and race, students will need to be reminded that the novel itself is a constructed text and critical questions will need to be asked of its own framework, its own source, its own purpose. To assist with this, I think I will require that students post at least four reflective blog entries during this novel unit. Students should comment on surprises, questions, and predictions regarding the text. At the end of the unit, I could have students evaluate their learning using the blogging self-evaluation rubric.
We were lined up in a coffle of captives, attached by the neck in groups of two or three and made to walk. (The Book of Negroes, 31)
In past semesters, I’ve always enjoyed having students rotate through an almost-daily literature circle role including: Questioner (Discussion Leader), Summarizer, Researcher, Illustrator, Curator, and Connector. These completed roles for each chapter could be posted on the class wiki as groups build their electronic portfolio and learning would then be assessed using self and peer evaluation, as well as the literature circle portfolio rubric.
The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. I recognized well that purple face – those bloated features. (Jane Eyre, 311)
Reading Narrative Essay
Using their own reading notes (their reflective blog posts), I’m hoping to have students develop a 500-800 word narrative of their reading experience highlighting major themes of the novel and I could adapt the reading narrative essay rubric that I’ve used in the past.
Only the barbarous and superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms after us over the sombre and glittering river. (Heart of Darkness, 109)
I’ve got a week to put the finishing touches on this unit, but, from the horror and the tragedy of colonial slavery, to the honour and dignity of cultural identity, I’m hoping that this educational experience prevents racist attitudes in this group of graduating high school students.
Image by Doug88888