Skills, Rigor & Interest for our Students…Another Part of the Puzzle

One of the puzzle pieces in the classroom is finding effective units to teach students so that they can learn a skill, and teachers can still provide rigor while engaging students.  I wrote this unit of study for close reading to be used in grade 7 or 8 a few years ago when I worked with LearnZillion.  One of the things I love about this unit is that it uses the short story named A JURY OF HER PEERS as well as the play version titled, TRIFLES.  The author, Susan Glaspell, created an interesting alignment between these two pieces of literature which in turn creates a good example for compare and contrast. 

I read a few years ago that if a student can compare and contrast and then move into writing the same, they are able to adapt their writing skills elsewhere more efficiently. This seems to be true from my own experiences. Getting students to understand compare and contrast, however, can be somewhat difficult.  Using my unit of study with Susan Glaspell’s writing creates that reading and writing scenario.

Kelly Gallagher, a respected researcher and educator, has written extensively about “writing through the literature.”  This entails writing throughout the time of reading and not just waiting to write after students finish a text.  Often this lack of writing through literature is a puzzle piece that is missing in the comprehension for many students.  This is where compare and contrast comes in. It is not just an organizer looking at the two parts of comparison and contrast, it is looking at how the parts come to the whole in a piece of writing — even a short piece of writing — similar to how the pieces of a puzzle start to make the puzzle look like the entire picture. Comparing even a little bit at a time and then adding contrasting a little bit at a time all the while reading the literature is what is helpful for students. 

So by using this unit, teachers can accomplish multiple skills and goals:  Close reading, compare and contrast, and writing through the literature.  Of course, most importantly what comes out of this unit is that students improve their reading comprehension as well as their writing.

These texts are not easy, and at first I was questioned as to whether or not 7th and 8th graders could access this fiction.  One of the shifts from the CCSS  — of which I am a Connecticut and National Core Advocate  — is the expectation of rigor and depth not breadth.  The A JURY OF HER PEERS and TRIFLES unit was written with the idea that this required teacher instruction and guidance in order that middle school students can deal with the advanced stories and depth of knowledge. Before publishing, LearnZillion requires all work to be vetted; in fact this formal unit is based on one that I used in a five-level differentiated classroom. You will see the scaffolding within the written materials.  And for clarification, LearnZillion vets all of their writers prior to accepting them as part of the LearnZillion team. 

 The last piece of the puzzle in any classroom is to keep the student’s interest. If a student is not interested, they are not engaged. Although the stories take place in the early 1900s, and some people would say present students cannot relate to that time period, but Glaspell’s characters are rich, and the plot is full of twists and turns.  My students really enjoyed the readings.

So I provide you with a piece of the puzzle for your classroom! 

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