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Reaching Across Time: Scaffolded Engagements With a 19th-Century Text

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Reaching Across Time: Scaffolded Engagements With a 19th-Century Text

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time One 60-minute session and four 90-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Lisa Simon

New York, New York


International Literacy Association



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From Theory to Practice



Texts from the 19th century can have relevance to students' lives, but unfamiliar contexts and problematic representations make engagement with these texts challenging. This lesson incorporates collaborative drama, art, and technology to scaffold students' reading of Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street." Students develop their understanding of the setting through online research, accessing images and histories of several different ethnic communities in 1850s New York. They use this background knowledge to identify and address silences and gaps in the story, as well as to reflect on the meanings the story, characters, and themes hold for their 21st-century context. Guided by these multiple entry points, students read independently and develop an in-depth understanding of a complex 19th century text. They summarize their impressions by creating a collage using images found in their research and related quotes (from literary, informational, and student-created texts).

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Simon, L. (2008). "I wouldn't choose it, but I don't regret reading it": Scaffolding students' engagement with complex texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 134–143.

  • Supporting students in reading complex texts helps them extend their understandings of self and society.

  • Incorporating the reading and writing of multimodal texts (e.g., drama and imagery) helps readers activate and build background knowledge, which in turn supports understanding and engagement.

  • Creating opportunities for readers to identify, critique, and transform textual biases supports powerful reading experiences.

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