Character, a dual purpose conceptual unit addressing student abilities to analyze characters of a novel; as well as, build their own individual characters. The first year of middle school, is an appropriate time to discover each of these skills; developing a greater understanding of the literary concept of character and creating a deeper understanding of one’s own self. Peter Smagorinsky states in his book entitled, Teaching English by Design, “Literature often deals with common human experiences about the pressures, changes, dilemmas, aspirations, conflicts … that make growing up such a challenge” (p. 141). I believe, joining these two concepts of character together allows us to see a purpose in reading literature and allowing it to shape our self, family, community, and/or world. In my experience, I have found that choosing kindness, in middle school or in the real world, is not always a first choice. This conceptual unit, will develop an understanding of what kindness is and how it can become the first choice in any given situation. R.J. Palacio writes, “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place (2012).”
The selected text, Wonder alongside the various short stories, poetry, and videos address’ both concepts of character quite beautifully. Wonder, written by R.J. Palacio is about a boy named, August (Auggie) Pullman. He was born with a rare medical facial difference, mandibulofacial dysostosis, often associated with Treacher Collins Syndrome. The multiple surgeries and the lack of self confidence this facial difference has caused; prevented Auggie from attending school outside of the home. It is the beginning of middle school, and he wishes to be treated like an ordinary kid; yet, his face is so extraordinary that his classmates have a difficult time allowing this to occur. Smagorinsky writes, “Adolescent literature features youthful protagonists dealing with the kinds of problems students are likely experiencing…” (p. 141). Throughout the novel, we encounter Auggie’s world through his own viewpoints; as well as a few of his classmate’s, sister, teacher, parents, and a couple of others. Each of the characters within the book encounter differences and kindness in a variety of ways; encouraging or even challenging readers to discover these within their own lives. The additional texts support the concepts of character, kindness, and making choices to being extraordinary similar to the main character, August. Highlighting the idea; why try to blend in, when you were born to stand out.
The lessons I developed for this unit, purposefully address’ both concepts of character in a variety of ways; connecting to the different selected texts through reading, listening, writing, speaking, discussing, analyzing, reflecting, and creating. Students are able to learn about the literary concept of character in the books that we read; while building their own individual sense of character. The readings, provide them with the overall understanding of the story. The mini-lessons, provide the students with the knowledge needed to understand character, making inferences, and the art of reflection. The activities, encourage students to personally connect with each one of the characters. The discussions, assist the students toward applying what they have learned, by focusing on putting the information all together; creating a safe place for them to come to terms with what they are thinking. The writings, allow the story to become relevant to their own lives. The analyzing activities, make inferences of the characters based on the information provided to us by the author.
The final culminating project for the unit, video book talk allows the teacher to see the students understanding of character, the ability to analyze a character, and their reflection on their own individual character. The video book talk, provides the students with the opportunity to share their conceptual learning of character. In addition, I wanted to provide students with a valuable learning opportunity; a new way of discussing books and have the ability to genuinely share their thoughts and ideas with one another. Book talks can also be used within the classroom to share books that students are reading individually. This peer sharing opportunity, supports the love of reading by providing motivation for other students to read the book. At the end of the unit, after each student presents their book talk to the class, their peers will appropriately respond with a well deserved standing ovation. This idea comes from the book Wonder, “I (August) think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives” (Palacio). This final act of kindness is a purposeful ending to our conceptual unit on Character.
Until next time… a latte of sparkles & giggles,