Saturday, May 7, 2016

Structure for Synthesis: Use Text Sets

When something shows up both in the Bible and in Shakespeare, no one is going to deny that is an important comment on human nature.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a student getting excited about Shakespeare when I connected the love flower of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the brain chemistry of falling in love. 

We are still having fun with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the essential question “How are ‘falling in love’ and ‘love’ related?” Wednesday we finished act 5 and began working on our group motif presentations. In the meantime, we also talked about God’s good intent for romantic love. 

I mean, what else is Song of Songs doing in the Bible? And the students were shocked to discover that after several iterations of “and it was good,” the first divine “not good” comes not after, but before the Fall: “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (New International Version, Genesis 2:18). So after the “oversight” of creating Adam alone, God embarks on the ill-fated experiment of trying to find an animal to fill up the “not good.” 

Wait, that can’t be right. 

Then if it wasn’t God’s oversight and subsequent ill-fated experiment, what was it? I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that just maybe God knew Adam needed to find out for himself that it was pretty lonely on his own, and that his dog or his horse (or his truck or his gun, or whatever your cultural counterpart is) wasn’t going to fill the void.

Anyway…moving on to the dangers of a powerful gift for good misused. I shared several Bible stories that read like a modern novel—I want…, I love…, she’s the one for me…—the stories of Shechem and Dinah (Genesis 34), Samson’s Philistine wife (Judges 12), and Tamar and Amnon (2 Samuel 13). In the last story, when Amnon’s friend detects his love-sickness and asks, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?” (v. W4) one student gasped, “That’s just like what Romeo’s friend says to him!” 

I’d planned a lot of connections into this unit, and I hadn’t planned that particular connection. If I hadn’t planned all those other connections, that student might still have made that connection. But if I model synthesis and structure student reflection on it, students will be more likely to acquire the habit. 

Three ways I structure for synthesis are by planning units thematically around an essential question, pointing the unit toward an assessment that has students answering that question, and building text sets that will equip students to answer that question. 

In addition to the play itself, my text set for this unit includes the following:
  • An excerpt from the book The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.
  • A Life on Stage,” an essay from Time magazine (28 April 2008) by Yasmin Albhai-Brown
  • The introduction to Song of Songs from the NIV Study Bible
  • A literary essay on the play at the back of our play text
  • Three Views of Marriage,” an op-ed column from the New York Times (David Brooks, 23 Feb 2016) that cites Timothy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage for “the moral view” of marriage.
That last one is new this year. Can’t wait to see what connections students make on the final essay!

How do you structure your class to support students making connections and synthesizing thinking? What kind of text sets do you use?

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