Friday, November 21, 2008

responses to TKAM workshop

As those who attended the workshop I just gave with Jay Richards at the NCTE Conference will know, I'm attaching here, as promised, the responses of the K-College teachers who attended the Summer O8 Invitational Summer Institute of the San Jose Area Writing Project. The entire collection of vignettes that I use for this workshop (on Dill Harris, Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson) can be found by visiting my entry entitled "TKAM at NCTE in NYC." Our Writng Project Tech Liaison also tells me that we an post Jay's PowerPoint on our SJAWP website and then I'll be able to link to it on this blog. So stay tuned. Now here are the responses:

Responses of the participants in ISI 08 to TKAM workshop

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for a very interesting lesson this morning. Trying to develop a character analysis in ten minutes was frustrating, even frantic, and I’m not surprised that high school students resent that activity. Still, after reflecting on the experience and “walking in students’ shoes,” I had perspectives on their experiences that I hadn’t expected to encounter.

For one, I felt admiration for high school students, and not necessarily honors, who tackle such tasks routinely. True, they want to succeed and pleasing a teacher is primarily how they try, but writing on command is a daunting task and still they take it on. I also felt great empathy and respect for English Language Learners who wrestle such tasks to the ground in efforts to succeed. I imagine the staggering difficulties that ELLs, especially those newly arrived, have in trying to understand the character of someone like Mayella Ewell let alone writing about it. Still, they try.

Tragically, aliteracy often begins in second-grade when young children are forced through lock-step pacing calendars, benchmark exams and stories not of their choosing or interest. Children who read successfully often choose not to because they associate reading with tests. Still, at the core, I believe that both elementary and high school students are asking the same essential question: “Why should I care about this story and/or character? (aside from trying to get the teacher off my back!) Today’s role play helped to answer that question as I asked, “Why should I care about Mayella Ewell? I don’t like what she does, and she wouldn’t be my friend!”

Strangely, shockingly during the role play I fell into her character very easily. What we shared was not entirely clear, and I certainly didn’t agree with her, but I knew her well. What a surprise that was! Still, making that connection with Mayella helped me to grow both as a reader and a person. “What is in all people is in me,” it has been said. Role play in particular enables children, young and old, to use what they know very well--social relationships-to access the characters and ideas of the stories or novels. The various combined activities give students avenues to access the ideas that will help them grow.

One last recollection. Years ago in an evening credential class, it was my task to teach Nancy Atwell’s In the Middle. To do that, I had brought in a box of books of YA literature to replicate Atwell’s “dinner party” approach to reading workshop. Suddenly, these groggy teachers came alive! Eyes gleaming as they excitedly riffled through pages of beloved books long forgotten, they furtively asked to borrow “their favorite books” to read over the week. (I’ve since come to learn that many teachers are aliterate.) Atwell addresses the issues of aliteracy as middle/high school students are consumed by innumerable issues that keep them from reading. Still, teachers had not forgotten the books that made them feel alive. This is all to say that children WANT to read. They just don’t know why. Application of lessons such as today’s help them see. Thank you for some great strategies! Constance Bruinsma-Kelly

Dear Jonathan:

Thank you for a wonderful workshop. I feel that engaging students with visual and auditory aids to enhance their reading experience, and in turn making them write well is a great idea. We always emphasize the importance of “show; don’t tell” in our classroom, and this is a perfect example. I will certainly be using this technique on a more advanced level in my English Composition courses next semester.

My character is Mayella, and since I read To Kill a Mocking Bird a long time ago, I have to rely on the excerpt and my instincts to write my initial response or character analysis. Mayella seems to be a typical teenager at first. She is poor but has an aesthetic sense that she cultivates. Caring for the geraniums shows her softer side. Mayella also comes across as a vulnerable but outspoken girl. She speaks her mind but is just an insecure little girl inside. Mayella is loyal to her father who has a hold on her. She is scared of him and to cover her fear, she is angry and furious.

This is as far as I got on the first attempt. After having worked my way through the workshop, I gained further insight into Mayella’s character. She is not just any teenager. At age nineteen, she is an extremely complex human being. She has to take care of her siblings and live in fear of her abusive, tee totaling father. Love and tenderness are sorely lacking in her life. I agree that there is a flaw in her personality. She has no integrity and she lies to frame Tom, a good and kind hearted man. Can we really understand what is going on in her mind? What are her values and morals? Is she raised with any? How can we be righteous and pass judgment on her?

Beneath the hard exterior, we see some level of tenderness in Mayella. She looks after her “red geraniums.” They are “cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson.” Mayella loves her geraniums and nurtures them because they do not want anything in return. This is one aspect of her personality. In the courtroom, we see a distraught Mayella. She is vulnerable and insecure inside. She responds to Atticus’s questions with outbursts and eventually silence. She knows the consequence of incriminating Tom, but is willing to take that chance because she is pressured by society. In the end, she saves herself. Can we blame her for that? Mayella is selfish; she sacrifices Tom to save face, but her behavior is nothing but a true reflection of human nature at its darkest. Roohi Vora

Dr. Lovell,

It’s been a number of years since I’ve read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Tom Robinson’s character exudes kindness, gentleness, even tenderheartedness and he’s simply a fascinating character to study. I couldn’t help compare his daily reality of victimization and marginalization to that of most Afghan women. The latter is fresh on my mind after having reread The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. Both Tom and Afghan women have limited value in the eyes of their communities and have little or no voice. To speak up would mean certain punishment and perhaps death.

I found the first reading of the TR excerpt to be similar to that of reading a poem for the first time. For me, the first reading reintroduced the character and each of the subsequent activities added a deeper level of understanding. Interestingly, the most helpful activity was listening to the audiotape as it made the sections of dialogue, in particular, more real. I can see how helpful this creative process of adding layers of understanding would be to my students. Trish Murray

Dear Jonathan,

Today's workshop had a cumulative effect on my characterization comprehension. I'm one of those students who wasn't against reading a selection and responding in paragraph form, nor was I one hundred percent for the timed writing/comprehension assignment. I certainly was willing to try the assignment, trusting that the outcome would be interesting or perhaps it would be a lesson on how I could improve. I was right on both predictions of the result.

My initial paragraph was a quick-write without much depth. It truly was a description matching the paragraph of Dill's personality. Digging deeper, to write about Dill, wasn't possible. In fact it wasn't possible until I had discussed the possibilities of the character, designed metaphor symbols, drawn them and participated in the role play. I learned that Dill was a deeply designed character, rich with metaphoric qualities. As a learner, I am primarily visual. I need to attach metaphors to most literary analyses in order to deeply understand. This approach to learning would match Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theories.

Here are my pre and post writings that reflect the above explanations:

Pre-write: Dill, a summer visitor, to Maycomb was from Mississippi. He brought with him a sensitive approach to dealing with people. His family provided the necessary things he needed, yet he felt emotionally neglected by his parents. His self image was projected as a shy, humble individual. As he had not been nurtured, he projected an overly sensitive approach to his interaction with people, even complete strangers. Generally speaking, his personality seemed puzzling to his closes friend Scout.

Post-write (continuing from the above): Dill could be metaphorically represented as a bird with a broken wing wearing a purple heart halo, crying. Symbolically Dill's broke bird wing represents his ill-equipped approach to flight through life. The purple heart shows the embattled sensitivity due to his neglectful background. The tears reflect his sensitive cry for fairness toward people. Dill is not aware of the cultural black versus white prejudices that exist during his lifetime. He seems to act, naively, as the conscience of right versus wrong. Perhaps his own lack of family nurturing created a searching, longing for a feeling of acceptance. It could be that his sensitivity radar crosses all lines of racial social etiquette at the height of black/white racism. his character represents the needed balance of characterization within the plot. Thanks for an insightful look into characterization. I truly enjoyed it! Julie Jenkins

Hi Jonathsn,

In response to the HW prompts, here are my thoughts after your workshop. In the pre-writng activity, I pegged Tom as a sitting duck, a target, a victim of circumstance due to the setting of the novel. I tried to process and write all of the information fast, as we were restricted on time. After participating in the several activities leading up to the post write, I really began to see that Tom's geneoristy, kindeness, and honesty is what ironically hurt him. How dare a black man feel sorry for a poor, white girl! It was his humanity which worked against him.

As I reflect on the sequence of events, I felt that you started with a broad topic and really narrowed in or "zoomed in", helping us to truly focus on the character. (It all comes back to zoom!) We did an initial read and then wrote about our character. It was rushed, very broad, and I really wasn't sure wanted you wanted. Do I integrate and use blended quotes? Was this a test for me to use what we had previously learned? The Cumulative Graphic Organizer, started to focus our attention on the dynamics of the courtroom scene. This also helped us to look at the other key players in the scene. The character received a face, a voice, and became human. Next, moving into our character groups, we really started to hone in on this character that we read about and watched in the film. As we discussed our central symbol and various personal symbols, I learned that this is an individual with only a kind heart who has nothing bad to say about Mayella and answers honestly while trying not to hurt her feelings or calling her a blatant liar. He has accepted his place in society. During the gallery walk, we had a further chance to get into the skin of Tom as we shared our poster and listened to the perspectives of the other Tom group. We were analyzing him from the outside in. During the role play, we literally got into the character's skin. It was a good way to test our knowledge and share with our peers. I felt more empathy for Tom as I became him. I thought like him; heck I even tried to talk like him. After listening to the vignettes, we were able to do a partial second read of Tom, where I caught things I glossed over the first time. By the post write, I felt that I truly understood this character. He was an abstract painting from afar, but as I "zoomed in", I was able to see the brush strokes, the writer's ink which created the essence of Tom. See you tomorrow. Tara Holcomb

Dear Jonathan,

Today I learned that Mayella Ewell, my character of study from To Kill a Mockingbird, was no lady. She was a victim, a fighter, a survivor, and a bully. Abused, impoverished, and trapped by her role as a woman and the oldest child in the bleakest of scenarios, she scrounges for what little power she can seize within her existence. Mayella’s world is loaded with injustice and abuse. What coping skills could she know for survival? In her loneliness and helplessness, she chooses her victim, Tom Robinson, to project onto her own inner turmoil. Living in the deep South before the Civil Rights Movement, an isolated black man is an easy target for Mayella to use psychologically for working through her own loneliness and sexuality, her feelings of helplessness in a dire situation, and her fear of an abusive father. Tom becomes her scapegoat, her relief. When he is there, she feels powerful over someone.
And why should she care what happens to him? No one seems to care what happens to her! In the trial, she screams out in desperation and anger, wanting someone to care more about her than the black man. Her ego desperately needs to pull rank. To her it doesn’t matter if it isn’t fair. Since when has she seen any justice given to her? This neglected, broken girl is starving for recognition that she matters, that she is not the same as the trash that she lives in. She is the vulnerable geranium in the garbage dump and there is hope in her if only someone, anyone would take the time to care for her. Tom is the only one who takes that time, so in her desperation, she takes advantage of his vulnerability, publicly humiliates him, falsely accuses him of her own sins, and feels justified in her anger.
During this workshop time, I learned that I can learn almost anything in almost any modality. However, if I am given the opportunity to learn in every modality, the knowledge acquired becomes engrained. I also learned that I get frustrated with a common learning attitude of “just do what’s required,” and the excuse, “I can’t do that, I wasn’t born with the talent.” It makes me want to scream, “well, you might be able to if you just took the time to practice it!” I take great pride in my work, and I rarely do anything half-ass. I wasn’t born with talent, only potential. The only time I do something half-ass is when something major interferes. I can’t even relate to keeping things casual and simple. Seems lazy, bland, and offensive to me, like the people involved aren’t worth the time or effort. I’m driven, and I care. I want the whole experience without missing a beat. The whole sha-bang. And I think that generally people don’t try hard enough. There is nothing I respect more than a learner who tries hard and has a positive attitude. I don’t know why.
Yet, I generally don’t voice that opinion, because I also think it’s rude and offensive. But that’s often the way I feel inside. That drive makes me want to take charge and do assignments individually. Realistically, most work in life requires a team. So I have a whole set of inner mantras that I tell myself during group work so that I refrain from monopolizing activities, overwhelming others, or the worst, having someone think that I am better than someone else, a show-off, or hoggish. I hate those assumptions and accusations! I’m just trying my best, and that’s all. I’m not trying to make anyone else feel bad or intimidated or competed against or overwhelmed or miffed in any way. I’m really a nice person, and as a learner, I’m an intense, passionate, voracious tiger. Just know that about me. Thanks for asking, Laura Cain

Dear Dr. Lovell,

I really love Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and I really enjoyed your workshop today. My assigned character was Dill Harris and when I started I wrote a half a page response that was very “scientific.” I took Dill and explained all the aspects of his personality and character that I gathered from the passages you assigned, but the response did not elicit much empathy for him.

I really think the activity with the posters and the role play activity is a fabulous method for students (and teachers!) to gain further insights into the characters being studied and to help us gain more empathy for the character we've been assigned. I really felt far more compassionate toward Dill after completing the sequence of activities that you had us go through. I know it’s because the activities had me metaphorically walk in Dill's shoes, as Atticus Finch tells Scout near the beginning of the novel. My second attempt at a character response was more than double the length of my first and it was far more empathetic and in depth and I am proud of it!

I know that I am a learner who appreciates both visual and audio cues and also appreciates the occasional kinesthetic activity to get me moving around, which was provided when we did the poster and gallery walk. I had seen your presentation previously when I was your student in the Methods class for the credential program, and I want you to know that I use your cumulative graphic organizer when I teach TKAM and it really helps to set up the courtroom scene for the students and I want to thank you for that excellent idea. Thank you for your presentation! It was even better the second time around :-) Sincerely, Jeanette Craff

Dear Jonathan,

My first take on Dill was extremely limited because I was putting up the metaphor posters, the non-linguistic representations, made by previous workshop participants. So I skimmed the text excerpts very rapidly. I did manage to link some attributes of Dill’s dreaminess with my own vibrant inner life as a kid. I got his sensitivity as well as his story-telling acumen.

What changed my understanding the most, however, consisted in two things. The first was the very articulate conversations my team group made over what central metaphor to create for our poster. I felt as if I were meeting a real person, unlike the bits of information that were strewn in my head from a quick-read and an attempt to summon memory from other workshop experiences. We had, alas, little visual of Dill from the movie. . I could relate to the childhood journey into fantasy when the parents and home life aren’t connected with the child.

The second piece that brought Dill more to life in my understanding was the tidbit that Jonathan explained about the author, Harper Lee, having used Truman Capote (whom she knew in childhood and as an adult author) to create the character of Dill. Such an enigmatic character – Dill the curiosity—became my acquaintance when I remembered the movie “Capote” I saw several years ago. My understanding of Dill shifted from my own southern upbringing experience of the racism to the quandary Truman presents in his autobiographical film. “Ah haa!” I thought. I’d say he’s a genuine eccentric, not just a curiosity. In any case, the boy Dill in TKAM became more accessible to me as a result.

So, do I really I learn more from movies and visual arts than reading? Maybe. Maybe it is the combination that is so effective. I observed how much more acutely-formed my own images were while listening to the reader on tape. Her phrasing and intonation was beautiful. I am reminded of the true power of a good read aloud.

Thank you for the carefully crafted, explicit roles and tasks for us. You already know how impressed I am with cumulative graphic organizers, and today, I realized I could actually do a literature experience like this with fifth graders, with the right novel. Laura Brown

Dear Jonathan,

I really enjoyed your presentation today. I think I really missed discussing a character in a classroom setting, with me as a student. It reminded me of the MA years when, pencil in hand (a habit I still have), I would read closely and carefully, trying to understand the characters in the fictional works we were assigned. Today, with your help and the help of my colleagues, I had the opportunity to discover Dill. The first things I noticed when reading the excerpt from Harper Lee's novel were his otherness, his vulnerability, his acute need for a family and for friends, and also the richness of his interior life. Working in groups and constructing the poster got us all closer to the character and made us speculate about his role. We felt quite satisfied with the results of our twenty minute contest with pens, pencils, markers and erasers, and gladly shared our finished visual symbol character poster with our other Dill group. Having us listen to a reading of the excerpt was, I think, a very useful technique. The narrator was successful in creating a certain atmosphere that may be difficult to perceive at a first glance. The stress she placed on certain words when describing Dill, the change in accent when Dill speaks with Jem and Scout, Dill's faltering voice when questioned about his father, all made the text come alive, drawing the reader into the story. I think the role play was not my forte, but it was a useful exercise in that it made me try to see the world through his eyes, and ultimately understand him better. Thank you for a really great workshop! Sincerely, Oana Melnic

Dear Jonathan,

When I read Mayella initially, my first thoughts were that she was extremely poor, defensive, and had a sense of despair. She also had a chip on her shoulder, yet as I read the excerpts I felt that this “chip” was warranted. Her family life was full of hardship. She had an alcoholic father, who probably beat her and raped her, a man that has robbed her of basic parental gifts (love, compassion, protection, guidance, etc.). She had no friends and I thought a part of her viewed Tom as a friend. She liked that someone in the world actually cared for her and subsequently took care of her, even if it was her who asked him to complete various odd jobs around her home. The slop jars holding the “brilliant red geraniums” appeared to be a symbol of hope, amongst all the garbage there was something of value. In my initial character analysis, I wrote that these were a symbol of the vulnerability in the character. After all they were the only thing of beauty in a yard full of random collectibles. These were a small positive gleam of hope and the one thing that she could truly call all her own.

The beginning activity was terrifying for me. A timed reading and writing assignment: was I back in high school taking standardized tests? Did I step into a time machine? Would I be in the blue birds or red robins? Being a product of an At Risk study done in the 1980s, I have developed serious test anxiety, which had lain dormant for the last 2 years until today.

After going through your workshop, Mayella became more alive. She was not just some poor defensive girl: she had strength and courage. While she might not have protected Tom, she continued to live in an environment that was rotting her internally and hurting her physically. It was interesting to hear my group’s perception of her because while we had all read the same material, our personal schemes affected our view of the material. The text-to-self drawings are a strategy I plan on using during the school year.

All the activities, TKAM movie, active group work with the graphic organizer, listening to the book on tape; I realized once again that I truly am a visual and auditory learner. Actually, I think all three learning styles (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) are important in my learning; hence I try to incorporate them into my lessons. The series of activities (movie, poster, role play) all served their purpose of “getting to know” the character, which assisted me in my post-analysis writing. Using a variety of mediums to engage us “the students” reminded me that I need to stay on my toes when it comes to engaging my students. After experiencing these workshops, I realize this has been the missing link in my professional development. Super Saturdays here I come! Breanne Romano

Dear Jonathan,

I have read To Kill A Mockingbird approximately 30 times. Of course we focus on Mayella and Tom, but I've never focused that much on Dill. After really discussing who this little boy is, what struck me was how much Dill is the conscience of the town, how much perspective he lends to the text, and how he is the only impartial observer in the book. I also never thought about why Dill might not be touched so much by the institutionalized racism that touches all the other Maycombians. (Even Scout, who should know better, is numb to the bad treatment of Tom by Mr. Gilmer). It came out in the role playing when I was playing Dill that one of the reasons for this is that he is so immersed in the fantasy world that he escapes to, that reality doesn't affect him like it does others.

The role playing was something that I've never really done myself, but our role playing really worked. In fact, I was actually getting uncomfortable when the person who was playing Tom was grilling Mayella and I was getting defensive when Tom was asking me what I was so upset about because I had a way better life than he or Mayella did. I guess the most important thing that I took away from that is that I need to keep an open mind about different ways that I can learn. I always look for ways to diversify for my students, but when it comes to my own learning, I tend to only stick to what I think works. I'm definitely a believer in role playing now. Dawn Nelson


I think you need to know some background about me. I am embarrassed to admit it, and I am not sure if I should really tell you this information, I never read To Kill a Mockingbird. What a tragedy. I have seen the movie several times, does that count? And while I am being honest, I also think that in high school I may have been one of the aliterate students. I read the required text, but I never read more than I needed. It was not until my adult life that I realized that I loved to read. Okay, don't spread the news, I am not proud to admit it.

Though the eyes of a new reader to the book: when you began today I was completely turned off to just reading and then responding. I could do it, yet the response was labored and dry. I felt like after we saw the video clip that I was especially tuned into my character. This idea was brilliant to me. Show a bit of the movie, who would have thought. WOW! After this I really understood the character. I learned from this experience and from the collaboration of others. When we did the posters and talked about what picture we would do in the middle, the character became clearer. I reluctantly did the role play. I explained to my group that usually when role play comes it is my cue to use the bathroom. Well I will admit it, the role playing was very powerful. I dreaded the whole 5 minutes I was in the hot seat. After all the activities my second draft was 100% better than the first. I could relate to my character in a far deeper way than I could in the beginning.

I was especially impressed by the way you front loaded the book. I have always just began with a picture walk or maybe just a quick tell of what the story was about. The way that you front loaded the book was also a way to get the students excited about the book and understand the characters. I bet this strategy leads the students to want to know what happens next. It made me want to read the book. It also helps those students that have a hard time making mental images as they read. I can't wait to use these ideas in my readers workshop. I was also thinking that these same strategies can be used for my read alouds, such as James and the Giant Peach. I really think that the 2nd graders would enjoy making the posters and maybe role playing, we will see how brave I get. I also may tweak the ideas and use them for book groups and complex group instruction. Thank you for the ideas. Amy Ayalla


First, I have to admit that I have not read the examples at the back of the packet. I find that often, I am an imitator, rather than an original thinker, and I would like to present you with a genuine me.

Mayella as a character has always angered me. I have always accepted that she is he unfortunate victim of an unfair dealing of life's cards. It has always seemed to me that, despite her situation, she is supposed to be the hope for her siblings. Her ability to read and write, her ability to cope, should be the way to save her family from itself. As the oldest, she should have felt the responsibility to her siblings that I feel: nothing is asking too much. Mayella seemed to me to lack what I consider a natural "mother bear" instinct toward the Ewell brood. For this, I have always privately condemned her.

After your seminar today, I am able to see Mayella in a new light. During the gallery walk, I quietly held my peace. No one likes someone who dislikes Mayella. I wasn't until the role play that I felt blind-sided by compassion. In answering questions from a very thoughtful Tom (played by Melanie) I became Mayella. I was quiet. I didn't want to answer the questions, though I knew the answers. The answers said that I was going along with my father because it was the only way to protect my siblings. Like the slop pots that hold the geraniums, I had to be degraded and dirty to allow my siblings the chance to flourish.

I will not bother typing my final draft here, but in rereading the opening for Mayella, I came upon a whole new approach to my essay. Harper Lee includes so many words that evoke a prisoner, finally presenting Mayella as the prisoner with the last words of the passage -- her care of the geraniums and her siblings. I was stunned that I have missed it for so many years, including the 2 that I taught the book!

As an individual who functions through emotion first, and rationale second, this experience with Mayella has fundamentally changed the way I will approach literature with my students. In the course of our race towards the CST, we often forget that what matters the most is the connection between readers and characters. To have empathy. To share their joys and sorrows in such a way that, while reading like Luther, alone and silent, we laugh out loud and reach for our Kleenex to stop the tears. Exercises like the ones presented today gave me new ways to connect my students to literature in the same ways that I do! Thank you for your passion, your wisdom, and your inspiration. Authentically yours, Brandy Appling-Jensen

Dear Jonathan,

I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation on To Kill a Mockingbird, even though it was the second time around. Although I had listened to and participated in this well-planned and executed workshop in your methods class, I found new insights and usable techniques in your presentation. It does grow on one. Now that I'm out of middle school and heading towards high school, I might actually get to teach TKAM (but of course the learning from your workshop can apply to introducing any literature we might assign to --what was it?-- aliterate student populations.

As evidence of my learning today, I've typed up below and am sending you my analysis (redux) of "my" character from TKAM, Tom Robinson. Despite Nancy and Laura's frequent admonishments to "save all your drafts," I did not save that first pathetic "timed" attempt from the beginning of the workshop. At any rate, reading this new and improved version should reveal much of what I learned from the workshop, and also what I hope to do to "re-mediate" students needing more effective verbal/visual introductions to required (and desirable) texts.

"Tom's Character" (post-workshop Enlightenment Version)

Tom the dignified African-American. Tom the tireless worker. Tom the dedicated husband and family man. Tom the object of a confused, oppressed white girl's desire. Tom the accused rapist. Tom the victim of prejudice and injustice. Tom the symbol of the potential-and pitfalls- of the American dream.

At this point in our exploration of the novel TKAM, Tom is all of these things, and more. We saw over ten different representations of this deceptively simple man drawn on our group posters. We also discovered that Tom the character does not exist in isolation, and chameleon-like, he changes as viewed and experienced by other people, as revealed in our role play exercise. For on thing, he represents the injustice and irrationality that makes Dill feel sick. He is also both a magnet for poor, lonely Mayella and the cause of her subsequent deceit and self-abasement. These layers upon layers of all the characters, and especially Tom, were made painfully clear in the video segment of the trial scene from the novel. The audio tape we listened revealed even more about Tom: he had run afoul of the law once before, but was punished more severely than a co-lawbreaker simply because he couldn't pay his way out of trouble. Tom is a such a paradox: both his own best friend and worst enemy. His overall goodness and honesty, his naivete about the world in which he lives, have landed him in this court of law, falsely accused, and apparently doomed.

If not for the color of his skin, and his circumstances living in a repressive small Southern town, or if he had ignored his good heart and walked on by Mayella's house that day (and the many before it), he might be a teacher sitting among us today. Tom Robinson could also be the CEO of a multi-natonal corporation. He might even be running for president of the United States. Instead, in this novel, he is trapped in a witness chair in a hostile courtroom, sweating as he tries to tell his side of the story, and listening to everyone except Atticus turn all his words against him. His fate appears sealed, and it is not a good one. He is an outsider that not even any of the town's other outsiders are capable of saving. But without all of these other insider and outsider presences in the courtroom, and their individual stories and interactions, Tom would not be a real character we can empathize with or learn from. That is what we learned from this lesson, and what will keep us reading, because we know what is going on, and we care what happens to people like Tom. Thanks again, Barbara Saxton

Jonathan -

Okay, it's 6:20 AM and I'm just beginning to write this. I'm sorry. As you remember, I've seen this presentation before, but I still had a good time walking through the steps. Since I saw it the first time in Methods, I've used the overhead/audio reading when I could borrow the audio from Sharon Leach. I find that the students, especially my slower readers, react to pre-recorded audio well because it takes the burden of making meaning of the complex sentences and all of the phrasing. Cissy Spacek'S already done the chunking for them, so there's nothing left for them to do but listen and create a visual in their heads. I'm surprised every year by how many kids can't or don't get visual images in their minds as they read, and I know that this strategy is one that allows them to do so more readily.

Although I normally feel like a hot shot whenever someone uses TKAM for their presentation (I've read it so many times, I've read so many teacher articles about it, I've seen so many lesson plans about it), I still learn things about the characters each time. I think I did have Mayella last time, and I did this time, too, but that doesn't mean I didn't deepen my understanding of her. I knew all of the things that we talked about Mayella during the presentation, but I don't remember the sheer hopelessness of things without saying it out loud.

I'm not going to share my writing with you either pre or post because, frankly, it's terrible. It's been a long time since I've written a response to lit, and that's something I've taken away from all of these presentations. Although I often write an opening paragraph or follow along with the students privately, I guess I need to carve out time to complete my own homework. Another way to build empathy. Debbie Navratil


I enjoyed your workshop today (or now yesterday as I've stayed up all night indulging my perfectionist tendencies in the finalization of my workshop presentation and am just now getting to sending you this e-mail). I particularly like the term "aliterate" - it describes those uninterested students perfectly. I could definitely see how the interactive activities you presented could help engage those students. I was certainly engaged during the activities. I thought the opening exercise was a great illustration of how our students probably feel most of the time during timed writing or in-class essays. I know I felt I had some ideas by the end of the time but was just truly beginning to develop them when you said "time's up". However, I might have had an advantage since I've read and taught To Kill a Mockingbird and so knew the context of the passages. From just those passages, I concluded that Tom is not formally educated but observant and intelligent and that he is patient, kind, and modest. I particularly focused on the dialogue and Scout's phrase "soft black velvet" in my analysis.

Watching the courtroom scene and then having to create a visual representation of Tom just relying on that courtroom scene made me realize that the actor who played Tom Robinson was able to communicate Tom's character and emotions more clearly than Scout's naive narration in the text (at least in my opinion) and so the movie could truly help students come to a deep understanding of Tom's character before they picked up the book. Tom's tears and controlled, polite speech seemed particularly effective. However, I can also see that this activity could be problematic if an actor's or director's interpretation is not supported by the actual text. I suppose you could warn students about the difference and then they would be primed to look for it when reading - which could produce a different sort of motivation.

I found that then creating the visual representation for Tom was a more powerful activity than I realized. Just having to come up with and then justify a symbol made me aware of inferences I hadn't realized I'd made about Tom and helped me articulate those inferences. I chose a golden retriever as my symbol because I believe Tom is loyal, kind, eager to help others, and do the right thing, and positive and understanding in the face of misfortune (like a golden retriever). Also, like a golden retriever, Tom is viewed by others as less than human or less than other humans despite his admirable characteristics. I realized after I created the symbol that it could really become a powerful reminder of Tom's characteristics. Now, every time I think of Tom Robinson, that golden retriever picture pops up in my mind. I can see how this activity would give students something to hold onto as they read the text (at least if their brain works like mine and latches on to visuals).

I found the role-playing more uncomfortable but also helpful in forcing me to articulate my inferences about the character. In my second attempt to write about Tom Robinson, I found I had much more to say and that much of my analysis now referred to the actor's actions in the movie rather than the text I initially read. I expanded my analysis and came up with the statement "he has been literally and figuratively crippled by a racist society yet remains compassionate and kind". I found my second analysis focusing more on Tom's kindness and compassion rather than less emotional aspects such as level of education - indicating that I felt more connected to and invested in the character now. I can see how a student who felt similarly emotionally invested would now want to read the book to follow "their" character. Through this exercise I rediscovered the power visuals, and especially visual symbols, hold for me (something I knew about myself but had somewhat forgotten). I also realized that despite having read the book before, I could still become more attached to a character - a sign of great literature.

I particularly thought the reminder about the saved vs. the damned was helpful. In teaching honors English, I tend to fall into the trap of teaching my students how to be part of the saved (since after all, that's how they're probably going to be treated in college, right?) rather than consistently expanding their understanding through more kinesthetic or visual exercises such as the ones you modeled. I will definitely try to include more such visual activities in my lessons in the future as I experienced first hand how effective they are. Thank you for a great presentation. Hopefully, I can live up to the example. Best, Brook Wallace

Hi Jonathan,

So I am embarrassed to say that I forgot to respond to your presentation last week and that I am equally mortified to be turning my response in late. Perhaps I can make it up to you by sharing how much I really enjoyed your lesson. First off, I have to tell you that I love how you explain the history of so many of the terms and strategies that we have in education, I am continuously learning from you these juicy tidbits of information and hope that I can remember them. The cumulative graphic organizer was great and I love the incorporation of the video. The role playing was very valuable to me as a student and as a teacher. It really made me think through who the character was and helped me prep myself for the character sketch that followed. I know that I will use the cumulative graphic organizer and I will be using the role playing more often as well. Thank you for setting such a high standard for us (I might not have said this if I'd written this on Thursday night before I gave my own presentation! ) Your presentation was so well informed and well rounded and I thoroughly enjoyed my learning experience. Thanks again. Sarah Thistlethwaite

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