Pictures Painted in Words

Discovering Imagery in American Literature

By OLu research partner, Brad Ermeling

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Christina Perez has taught American Literature for six years. She continues to find great reward in helping students explore contemporary issues and culture through the lens of American history, themes, and stories. While advancing students writing and critical analysis skills, she believes the course also enables students to grow as social beings and view other’s life experiences with interest and empathy.

Over the last several years, one of the teaching and learning challenges Mrs. Perez has faced is teaching students to identify and explain images in literature. “Unless it’s dripping in figurative language,” she explains, “they struggle to recognize, explain, and connect literary images to more important devices, and concepts for any given text.” Students are asked to use imagery throughout the course, but especially in second semester where students are expected to know, understand, and be able to readily navigate images when writing and articulating connections.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, Mrs. Perez tackled this challenge in her first unit with an emphasis on discovering imagery while exploring marginalized texts from Native American literature. She hoped to build a foundation in this first unit that would lead toward deeper understanding and analysis skills throughout the year, and ultimately prepare students for The Great Gatsby essay in second semester.

Images and Empathy in Native American Lit

The first unit is called “Marginalized Literature.” The course focuses on the importance of all American literary writers, including Native Americans, specific to this unit. Native American authors have been historically absent from the literary canon and marginalized because of their spiritual and social distinctions, not to mention their physical differences. Students uncover the importance of what it means to be American in a society that is founded on immigration and racial/social disparity. As they read through various Native American texts, both ancient and current, these writers often demonstrate their identity amidst personal anecdotes and accounts of their lives as Americans, through imagery/image.

Some of the essential questions in this first unit include:

  • Due to mistreatment, how do natives view America?
  • What is the Native American dream?
  • What is the Native American lens and and their newfound identity?

Drawing Images to Discover and Connect

To scaffold students’ recognition and use of imagery while addressing these topics, Mrs. Perez developed a new approach for students by introducing an imagery device chart (see example below), which requires students to think about the “pictures” that they see when they read.

chart

She asked students to draw, write, and articulate the images they found as they progressed through a given text. Specifically, she wanted students to be able to identify at least one image, depict the image on their charts based on the author’s description, and articulate its importance in relation to the purpose of the text. Students would then use this chart as an organizing device for their writing, drawing on class discussions and newfound knowledge to articulate connections in their explanation and analysis.

Lesson Storyline: Superman and Me

The storyline for this culminating lesson included the following major segments:

1.Review examples of the “Native American dream,” covered in this unit. Discuss identities that have been assigned to Native Americans by society, and identities they aspire to.

Click here to view this opening review and discussion.

 2. Read Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me” and ask students to annotate/make           notes of important story elements.

Click here to browse through the narrative text.

alexisClick here for a short video with student responses.

3. Work through example image as a class with basic drawing from teacher’s chart. Discuss purpose of the image. Discuss how the image connects to the Native American identity.

Click here to study teachers’ example chart.

4. Work in groups to complete these steps with another image from the text.

Click here to view a short example of a student group discussing the image of  “superman breaking down the door.”

5. Introduce example writing prompt for this text: Identify one image in Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me,” and explain its purpose (how) in defining the Native American identity. Be sure to tell me what is Alexie’s Native American identity.

Click here to view the teacher elaborating on this prompt during the lesson.

6. Study example response to this prompt and identify key components of an effective analysis.

Click here to study the teachers’ example response.

superman7. Work in groups to generate an original response to the prompt using notes from the device chart.

Click here to watch a group of students composing a response.

8. Exchange responses with another group to offer peer review and suggestions. Discuss responses and image analysis as whole class.

Click here to view an example of students providing and receiving feedback from their peers.

9. Review and discuss purpose of the chart: Have you found this chart to be helpful? How does this chart prepare you for reading literature and explaining imagery? How might you use this process in the future?

Click here to view closing segment.

Student Interviews

Student work and lesson observations from classroom video showed that students made deep connections with the plight of the Native Americans and empathized with the challenges this marginalized population faced in forging new collective and individual identities as equally capable and intelligent members of society. Students also made great strides throughout the unit in learning to select, analyze, and articulate imagery from the literary texts. Excerpts from two students interviewed below provide rich examples of this deeper knowledge and understanding. Both students (Aaron Rivera and Avery Warren) were also featured in the video clips previously referenced. Aaron is the student in the black shirt that is composing a paragraph for his group directly in front of the camera. Avery is the student in the red shirt, sitting on the right, directly behind this first group.

I: What is an image in literature? How is it different from other ways we use images in everyday life?

AR: Images in literature are more abstract and you have to find the meaning yourself…in real life it’s more straight forward. An image in literature is a device used by the author to convey a message–sometimes it’s through symbolism.

AW: An image is written in words…The author has to find the descriptive words so the listener can get a feel of what’s going on…that it almost takes them to that place where they can see it.

I: What images stood out to you in this story? Which ones did you select to focus on as a group?

AR: I imagined the poverty of the reservation and I tried to picture the superman comic… In the comic, there is a door placed in front of him. He broke down the door and it shattered. He used that to tell a story as if he was superman breaking through adversity and barriers in his own life…

AW: We selected the image of superman knocking down the door. It’s a metaphor saying that they were trying to knock down their own door. They were given an identity and they didn’t agree with it, so he knocked down that door and created his own identity.

I: In your own words, what does it mean to be marginalized?

AR: We have been using that term in class to describe the adversity that Native Americans have to overcome. It’s when society can attach specific identities to you or a certain group of people. A lot of people, especially the settlers, saw Native Americans as unintelligent because they didn’t have technology and because there was a barrier in communication between them.

AW: Like a margin on the side of the paper, they were pushed to the outside. The Native Americans didn’t have a say in anything. They were outsiders that did not matter. I felt bad that this had to happen. It brought up not only literature but also history. It brought insights about how life was them back then…we see the other side of the story and how they lived in a time of oppression.

I: What did this lesson teach you about choosing an image and providing sufficient explanation/evidence to support your analysis? How has the chart helped you? Tell me more about that.

AR: In explaining and analyzing an image, the chart has helped me to structure my thoughts…it asks you to connect it back to the overarching theme of identify and that’s the part the chart has helped me the most with. I remember last year when I would write timed-writes it was hard for me to understand how to write an analysis properly, but with this chart it was more clear to me…I was only explaining what the image means but would not connect it back to the overall theme of my essay. The overarching theme of the story is sometimes not the same as the image you are describing.

AW: We’ve been using the graph/chart with the story title, the image, a picture of the image, the purpose, and the identify. It’s been extremely beneficial because it’s helped with organization. Analysis is difficult for me. You can look at that image and think back on it and go in more depth…consider all the factors.

I: When you exchanged feedback with the other group about your paragraphs, what insights did you gain about the analysis process?

AR: They told our group that we were choppy in the part leading up to the final sentence about how it relates back to his identity. We didn’t really tie all the separate information together. We just listed it and then expected the reader to do it themselves. We assumed the reader would know that the superman image represented the author as superman without ever pointing that out.

AW: We told the other group that they could have been more clear in connecting the explanation and purpose to the passage that they chose. Because if you don’t connect them it sounds like you are just putting all these sentences together. It doesn’t flow or connect.

I: Is there anything else from this lesson that you think is important that I haven’t asked you about?

AR: I think it’s important to know that the lesson has not just helped me with analysis in this format but it’s also helped a lot of other people I know. In writing the analysis, people struggled with organizing their thoughts and this chart helped people realize the order their thoughts should go in and how they should link them together.

AW: I think it’s important to realize the purpose of why we are reading these stories. It’s not only literature. This happened in the 1800s and it’s not something we should forget about. Everyone should be treated with equality.

Reflections

As Mrs. Perez reflected on the lesson, she shared how pivotal it was to help students begin using the device chart not only to make a list of images in a story, but to employ it as a tool for structuring and preparing to compose a written analysis. In a subsequent assessment and writing assignment on “Burning River” (by Simon Ortiz) over 90% of the students utilized the device chart as a structure to plan and organize their composition. Some students showed substantial growth in analyzing and explaining images from the story with greater depth and examples from the text. Others showed marked improvement in connecting the images to the overall theme of identity. A few students showed advanced skill in both of these areas–unpacking the images and connecting them to the overall theme. About five students did not use the chart at all and left it blank while three others only used the chart partially. These students had weaker compositions with mostly summary and little original analysis. This provided evidence of the chart’s utility in scaffolding students’ analytical skills and writing. Mrs. Perez plans to share this evidence with the class to help them reflect on their use of the tool.

In her own words, Mrs. Perez offered the following insights and reflective comments for the lesson and described her plans for future instruction.

The process of analysis requires writers not only to read a work of literature and internalize the plot and author’s message, but it also requires the writer to think about the various elements that make up the piece. Specifically, in Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me,” my students were faced with a manifold of important images that address Native American identify. Students were not only expected to highlight important aspects of the story, but to identify images that illustrated the Native American dream. The chart helped each student organize their thoughts, focus on one image, and think about how that image demonstrated the Native American identity.

While it was evident students could think critically about each image identified, their ability to develop, explain, discuss, and connect their ideas to the bigger picture was lacking. This chart provided them with the opportunity to do just that. It provided a safe, yet organized space for each student to articulate their thought process without having to worry about verbiage and fluidity. Once the chart was completed, students could physically see their thoughts on paper. Once the writing began, they could take their articulated thoughts labeled in the chart and plug them in to their short responses. This would enable them to write the paragraph focusing solely on diction and flow. A task less daunting and much more organized.

Going forward, this chart will be invaluable for any writing format. As students continue in the next unit on Puritan Literature, the chart will prove helpful in organizing student ideas for The Scarlet Letter essay as they develop and discuss Hester Prynne’s character. While the original chart enables students to identify and think about the purpose of imagery, Mrs. Perez plans to incorporate a new chart component for The Scarlet Letter focused on “character trait/quote of characterization,” followed by the “purpose” of why Hester Prynne’s character behaves in this manner, and how that “connects to the novel as a whole” (her place in the Puritan society). The outline of this chart will continue to help students organize their thoughts and identify important characteristics.

Mrs. Perez looks forward to implementing this new component and assessing students’ continued progress as they build analysis skills and employ these tools on their own…even when not prompted by the teacher.

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Growing Little Sea Urchins

This week in Miss Hernandez’s AP Biology Lab course, students forced Sea Urchins to reproduce to observe the development of growing embryos.

First, students induced the sea urchins to spawn (release eggs or sperm), they then collected eggs and placed the eggs under the microscope. Once they had the egg in a field of view, they placed a drop of sperm and watched fertilization happen.  Within a few minutes they watched the single cell divide into 2, then 4 and so on.  By the end of the day some of the growing embryos had reached 32 or even 64 cells.

Not only did students get to observe mitosis and the cell cycle but they observed fertilization, development, and differentiation. The students used new microscopes that have a screen that allows all the students in a group to see what is happening at the same time.  They also have a camera to record pictures.  Below is some of those pictures.

Ms. Hernandez reported that many members of her 4th period stayed through learning support to watch the growing embryos divide and develop!

In the first picture the bottom is a fertilized egg with lots of sperm trying to get in.  The above are a variety of growing embryos at different stages of division.

Figure Drawing Workshop

Recently, our Art students had a wonderful opportunity to come to an after school workshop with a live model to practice their figure drawing.  Mrs. Doss and Mrs. Mooney brought in 2 different models during 2 different after school sessions.  Students from a variety of art classes could choose to attend these sessions to practice their figure drawing skills.  Figure drawing is a tricky skill to develop to get the proportions correct (among other things) on a human body. As Mrs. Hamby, art department chair, says  “imagine 6 more semesters of students having these workshops and how strong their figure drawing will be!” Below is some pictures of students hard at work during this workshop.

Socratic Seminars

In English 1, Mrs. Bowers tried something new with her freshmen students, having a Socratic Seminar. This process is not new to Orange Lutheran teachers as many use it in upper level English and Theology courses.  But Mrs. Bowers thought she would give it a try in her English 1 course. She writes:

“As we wrap up the book A Separate Peace, I taught and implemented a socratic circle! This is the first time these freshman were getting this instruction.
We have been discussing coping all throughout the novel, recently using a graphic organizer chart to track coping with Finny, and we are writing an essay over coping in this unit. At the conclusion of the unit, I introduced and implemented a socratic circle.”
She started the week with an explanation of what Socratic Seminars are and provided them a handout about it.  You can click here to see that handout.
The next day, they read an article about coping and did a paraphrasing activity.  They then worked on crafting their own answers to the open ended questions.
The final day was the day they had their Socratic Seminar where not only did they have the rich discussion, but they evaluated a partner and completed a reflection.  Through this process, they discuss the book but also how it impacted their life, and how to have a productive discussion with their peers.  All of these were rich and in depth learning opportunities for the student.

Crossing Curriculum Teaching: Yoga and Choir

Normally in choir, the students start the day with warm-ups, which include breathing exercises & the students standing in a specific order. However, for this exercise Mrs. Carvale asked the students to disperse to different parts of the room where they could sit away from their peers. She turned the lights off and walked them through a meditation exercise that prompted the students to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. After a few minutes of focused breathing, the students kept our eyes closed and listened to one of the songs that they are currently working on.

Prior to this day, Mrs. Carvale met with our yoga teacher, Mrs. Lark, so she could work on a mediation and breathing exercises.  Her goal was also to work on posture and emotion of the song, which are also both found in yoga and mediation practices. When asked about her experience Mrs. Carvale stated, “It was a great change to take a moment to LISTEN, rather than just always singing our songs. This exercise was great for the choir to hear & experience the impact that they can have on their audiences.”

After the students completed this, they reflected in their journals.  Below are a few quotes about their experiences:

“Yoga today was balancing. I enjoyed sitting at school and focusing on something other than my routine external pressures. Putting pressure aside and putting school in perspective helped me balance my emotions for a moment.” Susanna Bolin, 10th grade Honors Choir student

“As a singer, my body is my instrument. In yoga, breath is important when moving and is the foundation of all practices. Similarly breath is the foundation of singing. Meditation has helped me so much. I am glad that we got to spend this time in quiet, just being.” Dani Buschini, 10th grade Honors Choir student

“Taking a few minutes to sit, relax and focus on breathing was a refreshing addition to my day. It allowed me to pause, be mindful and forget about my daily causes of stress. Yoga correlates to singing as both heavily rely on breathing and relaxing your body. Caring for your body and allowing for moments of reflection and revitalization can give your body a nice break and make a great vessel for using your instrument to sing.” Danny Smith, 10th grade Honors Choir student

Working Conditions in Other Countries

Recently in Señora Holness’ Spanish 4 class, students were assigned a Spanish speaking country to study and learn about different working practices. The students had to research topics such as the length of a working day, how many work hours per week, benefits, vacation days per year, and length of maternity leave. Throughout this experience, students studied the working culture of their various countries while practicing the vocabulary of working practices. Once they compiled the information, they had to give a short presentation about their country to the rest of the class speaking entirely in Spanish. This allowed the chance for students to practice both their speaking skills and their listening skills. They also completed a graphic organizer about the different countries as they were listening. This allowed the students to compare the different countries working practices in one location.  Students really enjoyed the idea of a siesta in the afternoon and were fascinated by the length of maternity leave for new mothers. 

 

Also, as a break throughout the presentations, they had to work with a partner create a skit of different working practices and also practice the vocabulary that they are learning. One partnership did an interview, while another modeled a good versus a bad employee. All skits were a fun and engaging break from the presentations and also was another opportunity to practice vocabulary, speaking, and listening skills.  

 

Ava Dunwoody, senior, said “This project allowed me to utilize the skills I have been learning in the classroom in a practical and real-life example. Not only did it help me more readily understand the vocabulary of this unit, but it also helped me articulate my speaking skills in a way that will prepare me to speak Spanish more naturally. It was also a lot of fun.”

 

Sailing Through Success and Failure

In our last blog post of the school year, we are spotlighting our Honors Engineering end of the year project!  The students were tasked with building a boat that can hold 1 or 2 members of their team and move across the pool 25 yards. The only building materials that they were given was glue, paint, small amount of plywood and paper.  The students were tasked with keeping a journal of their building experience. The students met early this past Saturday to attempt their trek across the pool.  For some it was a dry success, others a wet failure but either way they had fun, and learned engineering skills!

Check out some pictures of the event, including a Little Lancer learning about the boat.