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dialogue: A conversation between two or more people, neither of whom normally is the reporter. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Missing Voices: Completing the Story

Amanda Christy of Boston Collegiate Charter School.

Amanda L. Christy
American School in London
London

Title: Missing Voices – Completing the Story

Description of School and Students

A suburban school with a population of approximately 1,800 students. The student body is ethnically diverse. The average size of English classes is 25-30 students. This unit is designed to accompany a ninth-grade literature unit, but the skills will carry over into later writing and research units.

Generative Topic

  • Perspective

Generative Object

A puzzle — assembled, but missing two or three pieces. The missing pieces symbolize the missing voices that lead to an incomplete picture. This object can be used to generate discussion and the subject of the puzzle can further enhance the object’s meaning. For example, in a lesson focusing on the voices marginalized in traditional American history or literature curriculum, a puzzle of the United States would be particularly meaningful.

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • Who’s telling the story and why does it matter?
    • How is the story being told and why is it being told this way?
    • What is not being said and why?
    • What is the “true” story?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • What does it mean to be marginalized? How does it feel when your voice is not heard?
    • Whose voices are excluded in first-person narratives? How does the story change when the perspective changes?
    • Who is marginalized in the society of "Of Mice and Men" and why?
    • What relationship does the society of the novel have to our own?
    • Whose perspective do we get in the news? Why does it matter?
    • How do we learn the truth?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

This unit is designed to help students be critical readers of fiction and print and multimedia journalism by helping them think about the role perspective plays in stories. The activities are especially focused to help students see who is marginalized in literature and in life and why, in the hope that they will work to seek out the truth in their own reading and writing by hearing many stories before making judgments. The following activities will keep students learning for approximately one week.

Activities

Day 1 -2

  • Count off students into groups of four or five. Ask one student from each group to volunteer to leave the room for a few minutes. When they are gone, explain to the students that they are going to be asked to do something as a group, but that they should completely exclude the member in the hall. They should not talk to him/her, listen to his/her ideas, or allow him/her to participate in any way. Ask the students in the hall to rejoin their groups. Then, distribute a crossword puzzle to each group and explain that they are to work on this puzzle as a group for the next five minutes. As the groups work, the teacher should circulate and observe the group dynamics. After about five minutes come together and discuss. To the students involved in the activity, ask: Tell us what went on in your group? After getting a few responses, elicit the other side of the story from the excluded students. Discuss differences in their experiences. Ask the second group how it felt to be excluded.
  • Read the students the Grimm Brothers’ version of “The Three Little Pigs” and ask them to think about who is excluded in this telling of the story. Once the story is over, assign one of the Essential Questions (above) to each group and have them answer the question as it relates to the fairy tale they just heard. Some repetition is OK — differing viewpoints will enrich the discussion and help reinforce the goals of the lesson! Discuss group answers as a class.
  • Introduce the word “perspective” into the lesson and review the three literary points-of-view: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd — limited and omniscient. Apply this vocabulary to “The Three Little Pigs.”
  • Now read aloud “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.” Discuss the four Essential Questions as a class in relation to this version of the story. What really happened? What do we “know” and how do we know it? What role does perspective play in creating a picture of events?
  • Homework: In their reading/writing notebooks have students “retell” the fairy tale of their choice from a minor character’s perspective.

Day 3

  • Open class by sharing homework in pairs and then in the larger group.
  • Have a student review the discussion on point-of-view that took place yesterday.
  • Ask students to turn to "Of Mice and Men." (see note) What perspective is this story told from? How does third-person perspective differ from first-person? What advantages does it have? What disadvantages? Where do our sympathies lie here? Why?
  • Even though we hear many voices in the novel, are any characters marginalized in the society of the book? Who? Why? How? Have students examine this question in small groups, recording information in chart form. Tell them that they will use this information later for a writing assignment.
  • As a class, discuss student findings. Assign homework.
  • Homework: Choose an incident from the novel and write an account of it from one of the marginalized characters’ perspectives. Then step back from the narrative you’ve written and write a reflection on what it reveals about the character and his or her place in society. Why wasn’t his or her voice/perspective heard in the novel itself? How would the story be changed if it had?

Day 4

  • Ask students to share their reflections on the marginalized characters in Of Mice and Men (women, Blacks, and mentally handicapped) and their roles in the story Steinbeck is telling. What is his writing telling us about our society? Are these same groups marginalized by the news media today? Are others? Who? Why?
  • To answer these questions, tell the students that you have brought in newspapers — a written reflection of society today. Talk about perspective in newspapers. Elicit from students the forces that shape the news we hear and the elements they must keep in mind as they read an article. Discuss what affects the “truth” we get and how we can read between the lines to find the truth.
  • Have students pair up and, armed with notes on how to be a critical reader of the news from the previous discussion, have them choose an article and analyze it, answering the four original Essential Questions. They should be prepared to share their findings in class the following day.
  • Close class by asking for preliminary answers to the questions that opened class

Day 5

  • Hear reports from students and discuss as a class. Whose voices have been silenced here? Why? Are they the same as those silenced in "Of Mice and Men"? Who controls the news? What truths do these missing voices reveal about our society?
  • In journals, have students reflect on their learning this week – what important idea did they learn about perspective and the importance of missing voices? What important question remains in their head?

Assessment

Students will be evaluated on their group participation, journal entries, written assignments, and oral reports. All evaluations will be based on student/teacher-generated rubrics already in place.

Resources Recommended

  • New York Times Crossword puzzles
  • Jon Scieszka — "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs"
  • "Grimm’s Fairy Tales"
  • Local newspapers — a class set
  • Neil Postman — "How to Watch TV News"

Note: I would use these lessons as part of my units on John Steinbeck’s "Of Mice and Men" (9th grade) and Harper Lee’s "To Kill A Mockingbird" (10th grade), both of which offer huge possibilities for finding unheard voices and telling their stories. The lesson could be applied to a variety of novels.

Amanda Christy’s lesson plan "Missing Voices — Completing the Story" was published in The Media and American Democracy Compendium 2000, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 24

 



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