We’re in the middle of our whole-class novel study of The Great Gatsby in my team-taught American Studies class. It’s been rough. Many of my students are struggling, and many aren’t reading at home.
Over the last few years, I’ve brought UDL into our novel studies, whether it’s a genre study or whole-class text. All students can access the audiobook if they choose, and we try to give them time to read at the end of every class. Because of this, I was hoping that we wouldn’t struggle too much, but it’s not working out that way.
I want all of my students to experience success with difficult texts, but they have to actually read them to experience that success.
We’ve been talking about women’s rights and suffrage this week alongside Gatsby, and traditionally at my new school, students have read “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour” alongside this unit.
Both are excellent stories, but I wanted to bring a chauvinist male perspective into the mix. I also wanted a short story that was easy to read, but difficult to decode. So we scrapped “The Story of an Hour” and went with Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”
(I love Hemingway, really, but he was a jerk.)
My students chose which story they wanted to work with, not me. They were also able to switch if they weren’t comfortable with their choice, whether it was due to difficulty or disinterest.
We spent the last twenty minutes of class actively reading the texts, marking them up with thoughts, observations, and questions. This gave them time to read, but it also gave them the freedom to switch if they were uncomfortable.
Many, if not most, students switched from their first choice, regardless of which story they chose.
A great thing about team-teaching is the ability to divide students out so we can focus with a smaller group. (We have 42 students in each block!) Despite allowing for student choice and ability to switch/abandon, we ended up with an almost-even split in both classes.
On Thursday, I worked with students who had chosen “Hills Like White Elephants” while my co-teacher worked with the others, and on Friday, we flip-flopped.
Previously, I might have met with a group in the back of the room while the rest worked with their assigned novel, or read their choice book. That way still would work, but it was nice to really, truly focus on one group and not worry about the other.
We moved from a discussion about the stories into our Gatsby discussion, talking about connections between the texts in regards to characters and writing style. Afterwards, students had about twenty minutes to read their assigned novel.
I’m looking forward to our first genre study next month, but I’m not giving up on this book yet!