Post Mortem

Dang, you guys are fast!

I felt both relieved and energized after giving my lesson last night. First, I was lucky that I had made a good guess about how long everything would take. Those of us who have taught hundreds of lessons know that you can never totally predict where a conversation will go in class or how long it will continue. Sometimes you just have to be flexible enough to scrap part of your plan and invest in what is working at the moment. I think everyone who presented did a great job of that!

I actually felt oddly guilty because you all made it so easy. Like Susanna, I think that my actual students would not have made the connections you all did. I would have had to sing for my supper with the 10th grade crowd (and I had those artificial transitions waiting) but you were a spectacularly insightful and helpful audience. I felt as if the lesson taught itself!

Abbie was also teasing me about my ineptitude with the technology (she spied me trying to push “F” and then “5” when told to push F5). I am well aware that the classrooms in this area are much better technologically enabled than what I am used to. I will have to brush up when I return to the classroom next year.

Overall, I want to thank everyone in the class for encouraging me to look at the teaching of literature in a new way. When I was back in Chelsea, MA, I felt lucky just to communicate the plot and to push my way through the standards (so, to teach required concepts like figurative language and symbolism). In this class, however, we have focused on what can be savored in the language of the text – in how it is written. I am learning to think that my job includes the responsibility to communicate the ART of writing as well as the elements of fiction. This is, indeed, a change for me. I think it is a valuable one.  In the future, I will be asking more questions about why authors write things they way that they do – not just “what did this author do?”  It should make better readers and writers of my students.

And now I look forward to hearing more from the presenters who are coming up! Thanks again.

14 thoughts on “Post Mortem

  1. Beth

    Hi, Alicia! I think you did a very nice job this past week. I especially enjoyed your timeline activity, and I think that is a very concrete way to get students thinking about their own reactions, as well as being able to see that they’re not alone, or that other people don’t agree with them, and that’s okay! I also think it would be an excellent conversation starter; I think I am going to have to adapt it to use with my kids! Also, I am with you on the technological spectrum. I teach solely with a whiteboard (and maybe sometimes, we’ll visit the computer lab), but my school doesn’t have much in the way of technology, and I’m pretty okay with that (for the most part). Minimalism has its perks, too! 🙂

    1. Tim

      What struck me most was the variety of methods used in the teach-ins. Alicia’s time-line activity was a great way to demonstrate to students that they are not alone in their inability to instantly pin down the back story of the reading. As “Yellow Wallpaper” progresses and the clues begin to add up, some students are quicker than others at reaching the conclusion. Alicia’s demeanor let’s students know that it’s okay not to be one of the first to stand up. What student should take away from this lesson is that literature is not a quantitative science – there is no 2+2=4. Literature is much more forgiving. There is no “gotcha”; our schema determines our reactions to what we read and after “Yellow Wallpaper” they will have broadened their worlds a little bit more.

  2. afaye


    I really, really enjoyed your timeline activity. I also want to admit that I learned more during my reflection on our discussion of “The Yellow Wallpaper” than a graduate student probably should… Your timeline was really a more structured approach to Susanna’s brave let-them-be class conversation style. When I read your story and hit the baby line I jumped to an almost dead-baby expectation, guessing crazy lady probably didn’t even have a baby. I was unreliable with my short story prior knowledge and forced realistic expectations on a character who in the world of fiction could crawl out of the wallpaper and be totally reliable in telling us all about it… But I never would have re-thought about my own interpretation of the story if I had not been physically and visually invested in everyone else’s interpretation. You’re really on to something! Anyway, I know a boring “good job” comment isn’t really too helpful, but seriously you did great. Just keep the student conversation going!

    1. Alicia

      Oh my gosh. It never even OCCURRED TO ME that the baby might not even exist (or was dead???)! Seriously. Did other people think that and I totally missed it?

      1. afaye

        I really doubt anyone else jumped to fill that textual gap. There really is no evidence supporting that reading (expect the “dear child” doesn’t seem to have a name, but her husband does refer to the baby as a real baby, but I am still wondering about the husband’s level of reliability), which is why I really needed the in-class reflection your activity provided. I was limiting myself and interpretation really is useful in a social setting. Thinking about defending my own reading when others were hesitant to stand-up made me do a “what am I missing?” And I was being overly skeptical from the get go. I am still sitting here, four days later, thinking about this piece, my own understanding of character reliability, and eager to keep discussing it. Yeah, I’m a nerd and your students may not swallow the bait like me, but I think this physical, social yet still guided discussion is a super hit. Also this is a super good piece.

        1. toddkelly

          I’m with Faye, I am still figuring this story out. Honestly, I hated this story when I read it in high school, and I was not even a huge fan when I had to reread it for last week. However, it is sticking with me, which means your lesson definitely engaged me, so kudos.

          So here is my take: I did think that there was a good case to be made that she was in a mental hospital, and her husband was her doctor, not just a doctor. I did not originally think that the baby was completely imaginary, however, one could plausibly argue that her “husband” only mentions the baby as a way to calm down what he views as a delusional patient. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see psychiatrist using a patient’s belief in a fake baby as an incentive to calm down. That being said, I felt that other the rest of my classmates offered a different and equally valid reading of the story based on textual evidence. I do not think that there is much that is “fairly obvious” about the story, and I would argue that its ambiguity is its best quality. I agree with Nikki below, (I do not feel like writing a separate comment on a comment), that we should not be telling our students, either explicitly or implicitly, that there is one “correct” reading of a story. We should be encouraging them to think on their own, and form their own readings, not just to wait around the table to eat someone else’s dinner.

          1. Alicia

            Thanks for your input, Todd! I am now finding even more possible interpretations in this story than I did before the lesson, which is very fun. If our goal is to encourage students to push the limits with interpretation and try to think outside the box, a more radical analysis like the one you suggested is certainly useful – even if it ends up being thrown out. It just stokes the fire! I never would have thought about teaching a story this way before – honestly. And now I can’t imagine trying it any other way.

  3. nikki

    Alicia, Your presentation was high-energy and engaging throughout–and that in itself is a huge victory with 10th graders! I, too, really enjoyed the standing/timeline activity. It was useful to see other people’s thoughts about the text (even when–or I should say especially when–people disagreed). It’s so important for students to realize that there is no “right answer” because they usually assume there is (or, at the very least, they assume the teacher’s reading must be “more right” than their own interpretation). I liked that you engaged with your “students” as a co-contributor (not an authority figure). You asked questions and reflected on your own understanding of the story, responding to and incorporating in your students comments. (“I hadn’t thought of that,” etc.)
    The timeline seems like the type of activity students would actually start to request in the classroom. (“Can we do another stand-up thing? Pleeeease?”) As you may have noticed, I’m all about practical application in the classroom, so that’s what I usually look for, and I think you struck a great balance of text-based conversation and out-of-the-box activity/discussion styles (standing, song, etc.) that would really pull kids in (my types of kids anyway). Great job!!

  4. Susan

    I think that is a great realization to decide from here on out to consider questioning “why the author did what he/she did” and not just what it was that was done. I think you succeeded in reaching your objective of discussing the reliability of the narrator. The time line activity aided in reaching your objective, and it definitely seems like an activity that 10th graders would enjoy. You could also consider having the students make their own time lines afterward too of moments that they recognize the narrator as being unreliable.
    I noticed in your presentation, like many of our readings (perhaps Sheridan or Blau) that as the teacher you were learning things as you taught. There were a few moments you said “I didn’t think about it that way before” and recognized the insight of your students. The post-writing assignment seems like a good exercise, although it may be too difficult for 10th graders to imitate the author’s style.

  5. Susanna

    I really liked the interactive element in your presentation, Alicia! My students would get a kick out of getting an opportunity to stand and voice their opinions– and I’d get a kick out of it being an organized activity for them to do so.

    Like I said in class, I really like the story’s narrator, and I empathize with her, so I had a hard time deciding when I found her reliable and when I didn’t– which got me really thinking. That kind of activity is exactly what fuels students to really dig into the text! Thanks for inspiring me to get students to physically demonstrate their opinions/readings more. As I said on Twitter, I’m totally stealing this idea. 🙂

  6. febencosme

    If all of my high school literature classes were as engaging as the stand up activity, I might remember a whole ot more about what I read back then. I remember thinking that the activity was non-threathening, even validating of each person’s perception of the piece. In fact, I could see an activity such as that one taking up an entire class session if not more. Congratulations! You really scored with that one.

  7. Lindsay

    I agree with all the comments that the “stand up” timeline activity was a great choice. It got the class engaged and let us move around, which I think would be perfect for the tenth graders you designed the lesson for. I loved how you gave students a chance to validate the reason why they stood up (or for those still seated, why they were still sitting down). I will definitely borrow this activity in any future class I might teach.

    Also loved the “Sunny Came Home” connection. There are pros and cons for teaching a song that quite possibly none of your students will be familiar with. In this case, the song really seems to connect with themes in the story, and for that reason it was a good choice. However, if there is something out there that is more current and also relevant, it might draw students into the lesson that much more if they know the song. Also, you have a very approachable and engaging teaching style that I really enjoyed! Great job!

  8. adalton4

    I’ll second others both on here and in class who said they enjoyed the standing up activity you did. We switched to teaching on the block at my school and so I’m always looking for ways to get my kids moving, but there’s so little space! I’ve definitely been looking for ways to incorporate this ones.

    I saw you ask on the twitter feed for more current music to use. One thing I’ve noticed with students is that sometimes using older music (if not actually “old”) is better because they don’t have a strongly prejudiced reaction to it. If it’s a beloved or hated song that they’re familiar with I think their focus may not be on what you’re teaching them that’s new. So, my vote is to keep the song!

  9. Ashley

    I really enjoyed your presentation and I can’t wait to “steal” some of your ideas. I loved the standing up portion. What a great way to kind of get a reading on the class and their knowledge of the story. I always love using music with literature. Since lyrics are literature in themselves they work well together. The students also enjoy that too.

    Thanks for all the ideas, and you did a great job!

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