Curriculum Corner with Mrs. Hull: Literature
By Mrs. Hull, Upper School Lead Teacher
Literature classes are possibly some of the most fun classes to plan for a teacher. They are the perfect integration point for almost any subject: you can write about the story, you can logically analyze it, you can study the time period, you can experiment with the science present or natural knowledge, you can talk about it and think about it. The thing I most love about literature though, is that really quality literature changes us. If you really throw yourself into an excellent story, if you allow yourself to "suspend your disbelief," and allow yourself to be absorbed into it, you learn about so much more than just history or literature. You learn to appreciate the the universal truths and themes of the book.
Last year, the 7th and 8th grade classed embarked on a year-long study of "the quest." What is a quest? What common themes does a quest deal with? And then, more personally, what are our own quests? The unique thing students discovered is that every character can be seen to have a quest, but not every character can say his quest is intentional. This prods our own conversations to ask: what SHOULD our quests be?
As a teacher, I am tempted to study every aspect of the book, and cover as many quests as we can. It's just so awesome and intriguing that I wish we could talk about it all! But of course, with only a few hours each week, our time is precious. Thus, my literary teaching mantra is fashioned after two of our ILS pedagogical principles, "multum non multa" and "festina lente;" both of these phrases center on the idea that it is far better to slow down and dig in deeply rather than giving students a brief survey of a lot of material. Why? The students are not just learning facts about these important books. Rather, they are learning how to think and how to let themselves be affected by stories.
One of the ways we have done this was with a week-long project. As we explored the theme of friendship present in the Lord of the Rings, I tried to subtly raise some questions in the student's minds about the role of camaraderie. Their project was to imagine a 10th member of the fellowship and write a log of their journey from the formation of the fellowship to getting lost in the Mines of Moria. They also had to submit a visual aid, whether it was a family tree, a hand-drawn map, or a portrait of their character.
It turned out to be a challenging assignment technically. Students had to have a very solid grasp of the text to include proper geographical information, correct character background, history of Middle Earth, the food they ate, the gear they had brought and the things they had to do on the quest to survive. There were quite a few lively conversations that required a depth of knowledge! Students then used this knowledge to do a lot of writing, in an imitation of Tolkien.
While they were busy working on these skills, students found themselves exploring the dynamics between the characters of the fellowship, and were learning more about the tensions and budding friendships. They have spent the last week actually stepping into this world, and now they are prepared to talk about how important friendship is and why. Or, perhaps, how important trust is, or what happens when a man betrays that and betrays his quest. My hope is that our scholars will take more ownership of this study and allow themselves to be affected by these projects more than a question-and-answer sheet with a quiz. I pray these lessons will help form their character, in addition to just being a lot more interesting than a more traditional classroom approach.
Please enjoy a few of the thoughtful quotes from these student projects. Remember, they are speaking as an imaginary character, but these are their own words, and their own thoughts about what it means to be a part of a quest.
"The company has set out, and is grim. I am going to prove myself. I am going to prove myself to my family, and to all, always."
"We must cling to our hope, and believe, or we will fail."
"I look out to the waters ahead, calm but not at ease, conflicted but not in turmoil. What a jolly time we will have."
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