When Students Have Surprising Reactions to Literature Pieces

acoustic solutions in the classroom
tennis balls provide an acoustic solution in the classroom

It’s a BLOG-BIRTHDAY! On December 5th this blog turn five!

And I’m still teaching and blogging…

Some of the unexpected things students say when studying literature pieces in the EFL class are delightful.

When we studied “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” (Walter Dean Meyers) we got to know Greg, a 14 year old who was failing math and preferred to play basketball. Most students predicted that Greg would grow up to be a coach or a sports teacher. But two students said he would be a math teacher!

I was actually delighted when one of my students claimed Robert Frost (we studied The Road Not Taken) was an idiot for leaving Harvard, as precious few of the Deaf and hard of hearing students that I’ve taught over the years had ever heard of Harvard.

Robert Frost would approve of my new parking spot near the school.
Robert Frost would approve of my new parking spot near the school.

We are currently studying “Thank You Ma’m” (Langston Hughes). In the story a teenager, Roger, tries to steal Mrs. Jones’ purse. She repays the act by taking him home with her (against his will in the beginning), giving him supper and money to buy the shoes he wanted.  Once the two of them are in Mrs. Jones’ one room apartment, she leaves the door open. At this point, we always ask the students: “Do you think Roger will run away now?”

Most students make their case for either “yes” or “no” but one student replied: “I know he won’t run away because otherwise it would be the end of the story”!

However, sometimes students express disturbing emotions. Responses the answer keys don’t give you guidelines for. I know I must carefully walk the line between making sure the student’s response isn’t based on a total misunderstanding of the story and legitimizing the student’s feelings, but it is a stressful situation.

In the shadows (Naomi's Photos)
In the shadows
(Naomi’s Photos)

One student vehemently called Mrs. Jones a meddling annoying adult who had no right to have anything to do with that kid. When I gently tried to point out that Roger made contact with Mrs. Jones when HE tried to steal her purse, and not the other way around the student was unimpressed. He called her interfering. I mentioned that Mrs. Jones was careful not to ask Roger any embarassing questions about his family and that she gave him money. He insisted that she had no right to do any of that. She could kick him for trying to steal from her and call the police if she wanted but that was that. In the creative section of his Literature Log he wrote how the two characters met 10 years later and Roger effectively told Mrs. Jones to “get lost”.

What I can say about the student is that he has had dealings with social services a lot during his young life. There’s a lot of anger there we don’t see in class every day.

The student and I went over the language aspect of his creative piece but let the content stand.

I didn’t see it coming at all.




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