Sunday, September 8, 2013

Contrasts and Contradictions: In Literature and Life

There is a great resource available for Literature teachers of all grade levels. I am using it in my 8th grade Literature class but I find the strategies helpful for my own spiritual and leisure reading.

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading
Kylene Beers  and Robert E. Probst
Heinemann, 2013

This book suggests strategies to help readers make sense of text.  Some of the students I work with tell me the hardest thing about reading is understanding what they have read. With the genesis of common core and the challenge to present kids with more complex text, we have to help kids develop their skills for figuring out what the words on the page really mean. This book is one great tool to have in the teacher toolbox. The authors have presented "signposts" based on features in novels commonly taught, that help readers understand character, plot, and theme.

I introduced the first signpost, Contrasts and Contradictions, with the story "Thank you, Ma'm" by Langston Hughes. The story begins with a contradiction that impacts the plot and theme. A young boy attempts to snatch the purse of a woman, who ends up taking him home.  A relationship based on trust begins from that initial contradiction. My students had no problem finding the contradictions and contrasts throughout  the story. How it impacted plot and theme was a little tougher so we will keep working on that. One of the young men noted that all the contradictions were "good" and we discussed the possibility that we wouldn't always find only positive contrasts in stories, or in life!

We carried on this signpost to another story, "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh" by Ray Bradbury. The students quickly identified the contradiction as the general in the story admitting to the scared young drummer boy that he also cried sometimes. He cried about the seriousness of the battle and the lives of young soldiers. This discussion opened the path for a discussion about the somber mood of the story which takes place on the night before one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. 

Since introducing this, I have become more aware of the signposts in my own reading. Today's gospel from Luke 14:25-33 has always been a troubling one for me. I have heard a myriad of sermons and homilies on it over the years but until today didn't realize exactly why it troubled me so. Here is Jesus, our loving Jesus, telling us to hate. It's a contrast, a contradiction, and totally unexpected. And it bothers me. But it must mean something and today the words of many pastors and writers came together for me as I sorted through the message as I understand it:

When you said "yes" to follow me, you didn't sign up to bring potato salad to the church picnic. You signed up for a lifestyle change that won't always be comfortable or sweet. The people you love the most may not always be the ones who will help you to the Kingdom. The carefully laid  plans of your white picket fence (or log cabin in my case) future may not be what is in store for you. Stay open, be willing to give some things up and don't always expect this journey to be smooth. There will be joy, there will be abundance, but get off the throne and let me run things. Don't get too attached to anything or anybody because, really, this gig is mine. You are the disciple. Welcome aboard.

Sometimes a teacher, always a learner.


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