One thing I pushed for is more cohesiveness in the literature curriculum. I thought each grade ought to have a theme that unifies it, along with a set of essential questions that can be returned to again and again at each major literature unit. The 7th grade theme we settled on was “Adjusting to Place” or, alternatively, “People and Places,” largely to resonate with the emphasis on geography in the 7th grade Social Studies classes:
- What influence does an environment have on us?
- What are ways in which we might adapt to a new, difficult, or changing environment?
- How can we effect positive change on our environment?
- What role can setting play in a story?
- How can we think of a literary text as a kind of place to navigate and explore? How can we use maps as a way to organize our understanding of a text?
Having this organizing principle has guided us in making curricular choices, planning interpretive strategies, and designing major projects. Here, for example, is a Smartboard graphic developed during a unit on The Bean Trees:
It’s a map of the characters in the novel, as organized by setting and relationships.
Here’s are two maps of settings within A Gathering of Old Men, also developed as a class as we read the book. We discussed how setting was used in the book to establish the identities and alliances of certain characters and the marginalization of others. When one character moves from one setting to another, it seems to mark a significant symbolic action.
Not everything is directly tied in to settings. We also, for instance, utilize the metaphor of maps, graphics that help give us an overview of information by organizing it spatially. Here are two such maps made, again on a Smartboard, during our study of The Chosen. One is a mapping of narrative events by chapter 2, the second is a Venn Diagram of the similarities and differences between the two major characters in the novel, Reuven and Danny:
I also developed a project where groups of students were assigned various locations around the Middle School building as well as a specific settings from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. They were to recreate elements of their assigned literary setting into their assigned physical setting—props, costumes, natural elements—and then take tableaux photographs re-creating key moments that took place in those settings: