Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks

“I don’t nest on a tree! You just chose me because you like puffins!” Epstein Family Photos

You might think I am barking up the wrong tree.

Even if I am, it’s a tree well-chosen.

The short video that you see below “Too Quick to Judge” (3.42 min.)  obviously belongs to the genre of educational messages which we can refer to as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

Therefore, you would naturally assume that I would be using this video as a pre-reading task when teaching the story in our literature program “Mr. Know All” by Somerset Maugham. That story is about judging someone far too quickly based on his name and looks and this video certainly is related.

Nope.

Being judgmental…
Epstein Family Photos

I needed a pre-reading task for a group of struggling Deaf and hard of hearing learners (note: I also have very strong Deaf and hard of hearing learners!). They are wonderful young people, who are admirably determined to succeed, but their general knowledge can only be described as dismal and they get totally befuddled by abstract things such as metaphors.

The poem “As I Grew Older” by Langston Hughes uses the powerful metaphor of a “wall” to signify discrimination. I’ve decided to begin by focussing the pre-reading discussion on the significance of the wall, or rather a wall.

At first, I thought I the pre-reading task should be a mini American history lesson on slavery, civil rights, and discrimination. These issues will undoubtedly be discussed when I teach the poem itself (I discuss them when I teach the poem to my strong students) but I will not include them in the pre-reading.

The literacy educator Timothy Shanahan writes:

  1. ” Prior to reading, I will help students to think about ideas that are relevant to what is important or challenging in a text. (For example, if we are reading Moby Dick, the preparation activities will not emphasize whales, but obsession. Prior knowledge matters, but it has to be the knowledge that is relevant to what is important, rather than background information that is only superficially connected to the ideas).”  Quote from My New Year’s Resolutions for Teaching Reading Comprehension.
Dealing with walls…
Epstein Family Photos

My students will not understand the poem if they think that an actual brick wall actually popped up between the poet’s home and someplace he wanted to go.  These student’s default mode is to look at language in a very literal manner. Words should only have one concrete meaning as far as they are concerned. Some even complain that it is very inconsiderate of their feelings when this is not the case. Background knowledge won’t be helpful or meaningful if we don’t get them to relate the wall as a metaphor.

I believe the wall is a good place to start because these students actually have experience with a wall that needs to be broken. They all live with a hearing loss that affects their communication with the world around them and the way they are perceived by others.

For a change, I haven’t prepared any structured activities or worksheets for this video. In this case, an open discussion is needed. I’m going to write the word “wall” on the board and begin by asking them if they can imagine the wall between the boy and girl (who is Deaf!) sitting on the same bench and not communicating. Then I will ask if they can see other virtual barriers between people in this video. I believe that they will bring up points related to gender, race and perhaps economic status. I will sum up by reminding them that the wall is a metaphor yet they all understood it.

Once the students are prepared for a metaphor, we will be able to start learning the poem in its own context.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks”

  1. excellent use of the clip. Thanks, Naomi. It can serve to simply expose natural assumptions wherever they may occur.

    Judih

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