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Lesson Plan

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

Publisher

International Reading Association

 

Student Objectives

Session 1: Negotiating the hurdle of an unfamiliar story world; activating and building background knowledge (90 minutes)

Session 2: Activating sensory knowledge to elaborate on and interact with an unfamiliar story world (60 minutes)

Session 3: Addressing silences, filling in gaps, considering alternatives (90 minutes)

Session 4: Making more of the text (90 minutes)

Session 5: Synthesis and reflection (90 minutes)

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • Develop their abilities to infer and fill in textual gaps through the use of written dialogues and dramatic improvisations as well as by creating visual texts and blog posts

  • Draw upon a wide range of texts (image, dramatic, print) to develop a sensory understanding of story setting and characters

  • Expand their background knowledge of a historical time period by 1) reading multiple accounts written during and about that time, and 2) using information through this reading to create their own texts in different genres and modalities

  • Strengthen their ability to approach and interpret challenging and complex texts by using multimodal explorations to support visualizing, textual gap filling, and text-to-text connections.

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Session 1: Negotiating the hurdle of an unfamiliar story world; activating and building background knowledge (90 minutes)

1. Tell students you are going to play a clip from The Office. As they watch, ask them to infer and make guesses about the stories that underlie the characters' interactions with each other.

2. After playing the excerpt, have students share their interpretations. Ask them to give examples of the clues they paid attention to in developing their understanding of and predictions about the characters' stories. Ask: What is revealed through the characters' ways of talking? Their facial expressions and physical movements? Ask students to demonstrate any expressions or movements that were effective. Ask what else students noticed about what the actors did or said to communicate aspects of their characters and histories.

3. Play the clip a second time and ask students to attend to the characters' reactions to the boss, Michael Scott. This second read of the clip should lead to more in-depth considerations of this character. Probe for how the characters resist Scott covertly as well as overtly (e.g., joking, placid agreement that goes nowhere, outright refusal) and his responses to them (e.g., denial, cajoling). Revisit some of the predictions generated from the first viewing and refine and deepen them in relation to ideas generated in this discussion. Before ending the discussion, note that this sitcom is called The Office. Let students know they will be reading a story that takes place in an office. Ask what the clip reveals about what it's like to work in an office (i.e., in close proximity to others, those you like and those who drive you crazy, trying to get colleagues to do what you need them to do).

4. Tell students they will now warm up with improvisation activities. Ask students to use their bodies and faces to show the following:

  • Organize a messy work area

  • Feel sorry for someone next to them

  • Be irritated by the person working next to them
Students should do these simultaneously, and each should take about a minute. After this warm-up, take a few minutes to highlight some of the movements or actions you observed. Then let students know they will be doing more developed improvisations in the following activity.

5. Distribute the Role-Play A prompt to half of the class and the Role-Play B prompt to the other half. Give students about five minutes to read the prompt and think about the character, his or her situation, and the kinds of things he or she might say in the described interaction. If time allows, let students meet in role-play groups (i.e., all Role-Play A's together) to share ideas regarding their assigned characters in relation to what he or she might say, do, etc.

6. Have each Role-Play A student pair with a Role-Play B student. Before beginning, remind students that in the interaction, they are the character described in their assigned role-play prompt. Let them know that the goal of the role-play is to develop a sense of the character and his or her options in the work setting. If there are an odd number of students, take one of the roles so that each A has a B partner. Have each pair improvise the interaction for three to five minutes. These improvisations should occur simultaneously so that everyone is involved in the acting at the same time.

Note: You will need to do role-plays at least twice. The first round acts as a warm up or first draft. Because students will have varying levels of comfort and experience in improvisation, this first round also provides powerful scaffolding. The next steps allow teachers to make this scaffolding explicit.

7. After a few minutes, stop students. Highlight some of the things you noticed students doing well in the improvs (e.g., physical actions, responses to the other character) that showed what their character was like or that provided a sense of their reactions to the office context. Identify any confusion about the activity you noticed (e.g., students talking about rather than acting as the character, characters easily agreeing with each other rather than developing the irritation component). Tell students they will do a second round as their character with a new partner. Their goal in this second round is to do an even better job in representing the character's perspectives about the job and the other person. Answer questions that they may have about the role-play activity. Then have them find a new opposite role partner and repeat the improv.

8. Some students will find this activity very easy; some will find it very challenging. To address any remaining struggles, have two volunteers perform their improvs for the whole class. Encourage students to share what they notice about the performance and the characters. Some prompts to use include:

  • What was it like to be the character?

  • What were some things you did to stop the other character?

  • What did you notice the other character did that was hard to stop?
This discussion, in conjunction with the role-play, provides a layered and spiraled preparation for the Bartleby story's setting as well as some of its themes and characters. Students can then bring this activated and expanded background knowledge to their independent reading.

9. Have students resume their seats. Distribute "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" Let them know that all that they have done so far-analyzing the video clip, role-playing, observing-relates to the story they are about to read. Tell them that as they read they should draw upon what they already know about the experience of working in an office with others and for a boss.

10. Give students time to read the story opening silently. They should read through the presentation of Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut (about 10 pages). If reading 10 pages is too much for your class, stop them after about five pages and discuss the character of the narrator. What does he sound like? Look like? What kind of person does he seem to be? What are they seeing and hearing as they read and imagine this world? Then have them continue reading silently with a focus on the characters and the parallels between the words and the dramatic work they have done.

11. Have students share their images/imaginings of the world of the story. What does the space look like? When do they think this story is happening? As needed, let them know the setting is mid-19th century New York. Have students share the associations and images they have about that setting.

12. If enough computers are available, assign two or three students to a computer and have them visit one of the bookmarked sites: NYPL Digital Gallery: Early Real Estate Atlases of New York or NYPL Digital Gallery: The Picture Collection of The New York Public Library. Bartleby's Blank Wall is also a good site, particularly for students who are expressing discomfort with the vocabulary or who are not strong in reading visual images.

13. Tell students their goal is to find images of the kind of building in which the characters in the story work. Suggest using "Wall Street" and "office" for search terms. Each group should find at least one good image and read it carefully for the information it provides about the story world.

14. Have each group share the image they found, ideally on an overhead screen. They should point out what they noticed or learned about the kinds of office and space described in the story.

Homework
Students should continue reading the story through the point where Bartleby is hired (approximately five pages). Ask them to list at least five important elements of the story thus far (e.g., characters, aspects of setting, interactions, themes). For each element they identify, they should also find or create images or sounds to represent those elements. To do this, they can draw images or bring relevant images found on the Internet, in magazines, and so on. Depending on your school's music policy, students can bring songs or sound clips on CDs or mp3 players or can be prepared to produce sounds in class. Images/sounds should be brought to the following class.

If students are unclear how to proceed with the assignment, have the class identify one element of the story thus far that they feel is important and then, through group discussion, generate possible images or sounds that could represent that element.

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Session 2: Activating sensory knowledge to elaborate on and interact with an unfamiliar story world (60 minutes)

1. Have students share images/sounds in pairs. Remind them to give and probe for reasons for their representations during this time. If some students have not done this work, they can use this time to listen in on others' sharing or to work independently to create images that symbolize the story elements.

2. Tell students they are going to add to the visualization/sensory work they have already done. Hand out Bartleby: Excerpt 1 and have them work in pairs to create a drawing of the office space assigned to Bartleby. As the pairs work, observe and as needed push them to attend specifically to the details and clues of the text.

3. Discuss the students' drawings as a class. Ask: What did you notice about the space in this office, particularly for those who are the clerks or scriveners? On an overhead projector bring up Bartleby's Blank Wall and have students look at the representation of the brick wall for 60 seconds. Ask them their reactions to this. Ask how they would react if they were required to face it all day, as Bartleby does, copying documents over and over, and working with the narrator, Turkey, and Nippers. Ask them what reactions they have to these kinds of working conditions. Prompt for how they might resist these working conditions.

4. Have the class do a second role-play. Assign half the class to be Bartleby, the other half to be the narrator asking him to do something. Let students know they can draw ideas and scenes from the story for their improvisations. Have them role-play this interaction twice if possible. Then have them switch roles. Have a volunteer pair role-play the interaction for the whole class. Some areas to touch upon in a discussion after the role-plays include:

  • What do you notice about how each character tries to have his own way?

  • Why do you think Bartleby is refusing?

  • How does the narrator react to Bartleby's resistance?

  • What do you think about the characters' actions
5. Ask students if any of the images or sounds they created for homework and brought in today represent the characters in the story. Ask: What gender dominates? What ethnicity? Ask why this would be so. Probe for what students know about communities in New York during the story's time period. Refer back to The Office clip and consider similarities/differences regarding ethnicity and gender.

6. Using the overhead, bring up the Seneca Village website. Note that it provides information about several communities living in New York at the time the Bartleby story was published. Tell students they will work with this website for their homework assignment.


Homework
Have students read the Seneca Village website with the goal of finding out about the setting for "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," particularly in relation to communities not represented in the story. They should read and take notes on the homepage of Seneca Village, as well as explore the links found on the website table of contents-in particular, New York City in the 1800s and Early African New York.

Ask students to specifically look for information about (1) the lives of poor European immigrants, African Americans, and Irish Americans in New York in the 1850s and before, and (2) the kinds of jobs that were available to women, men, and children in these communities.

Students should also continue reading "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," (approximately five more pages). In their reading, they should continue to develop their understanding of the two main characters: Bartleby and the narrator.

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Session 3: Addressing silences, filling in gaps, considering alternatives (90 minutes)

1. Have students work in groups of three or four per one computer to access the Seneca Village website. Ask students to share with each other what they learned about 1850s New York from their homework. Let them know the goal of sharing is to expand what they know about the three communities. As they work, visit each group to listen in as they share. Ask each group to show you some of the connections between the information they have learned from the website. Give them about 15 minutes to pool information and expand their knowledge about some of the silenced histories from 1850s New York. Those who come without having done the work can visit the website to develop their knowledge while others meet and share.

2. With students remaining in their group clusters, distribute copies of Bartleby: Excerpt 2. Have them turn their attention to you and read aloud the first two sentences: "Ginger Nut, the third on my list, was a lad some twelve years old. His father was a carman, ambitious of seeing his son on the bench instead of a cart, before he died." Ask students how this sentence can connect to the history about which they have been reading and talking. Probe for: Ginger Nut could be from one of the communities, an immigrant, African American, and poor, who lived in New York.

3. Assign each group one of the New York communities that was highlighted in their research: (1) poor European immigrants, (2) African Americans, or (3) Irish Americans. Distribute Bartleby: Excerpt 3, the Narrator's account of the first time Bartleby "prefers not to." Tell students they will rewrite the scene to tell it from Ginger Nut's perspective as if he were from that specific community, using details of what they learned from the Seneca Village website and their own developed sense of character and history.

To support students' engagement in this assignment, allow them flexibility in choosing a genre for the text they are creating. For example, they can write it as a dialogue script, a series of text messages, a mock-up of a social networking page with comments, or a comic strip. Guide students to choose a genre that (a) includes interactions between Ginger Nut and one other character, and (b) students know well enough to make a relevant text. Let them know they have about 30 minutes to produce this work and that, regardless of the genre they use, their creation must:

  • Reflect Ginger Nut's perspective as a representative of the assigned community

  • Retell the scene in a way that represents what is described in the excerpt
4. Have each group join another group. Each group should present the texts they have created to the other group for about 15 minutes.

5. Have students free write for 10 minutes to document their insights about the story's setting from their work in this class. Specifically, they should respond to the following prompts:

  • What questions and understandings do you have about the working opportunities that were available to African Americans, Irish Americans, and poor immigrants in New York during the 1850s?

  • What questions and understandings do you have about the opportunities for women from these communities?

  • What would the narrator of "Bartleby" say or think if a male or female person from one of these communities applied for a job in his office?
6. In class discussion, have students share some of the insights and questions they have in relation to the prompts. Then push them to think about the ways in which the histories of these communities, which occurred at the same time Melville was writing "Bartleby," are left out of the story. Remind students that during this time, slavery still existed in the United States, as did laws and policies that limited access to school or employment for poor people, African Americans, and Irish Americans. Note that Melville does not acknowledge these realities in his story. Ask students: How would the story have been different if he had? What would have been gained through a more complex exploration of work and opportunities during this time period? What would have been lost?

Ask students to continue to consider, as they read, the perspectives and issues Melville chose to highlight and those he did not, particularly in relation to the time period in which he wrote.


Homework
Have students read through the scene where the narrator goes to his office on Sunday and discovers Bartleby is living there (to about page 36, approximately 16 pages from previous stop). Let them know they can continue reading after this point, too, if they choose. Have them write a short reflection on Bartleby's resistance in the story. Specifically ask them to address the following: What does Bartleby gain in resisting as he does? What does he risk? What might he hope to and be able to achieve with his actions? What other actions could he take that could be more effective?

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Session 4: Making more of the text (90 minutes)

1. Begin class by having students work in pairs to share the reflections they wrote for homework. Students who did not prepare a reflection can take this time to write in response to the homework prompts.

2. With students still in their pairs, have them focus to the scene where the narrator finds Bartleby in the office on Sunday. Let them know you have chosen to focus on it because it is a pivotal scene to the story but also one that requires a lot of reading between the lines in order to make sense of it. Have them take 10 minutes to review the scene as if they were going to turn it into a play. They should visualize the settings the characters are in, the physical actions they make, and the artifacts/props that they use.

3. Transition students to prepare for the collaborative reenactment activity. They should arrange their seats in a partial circle around a large, clear space in the room. Let them know they are going to do a collaborative reenactment to help them use what they have just done to deepen their understanding of this scene and their understanding of Bartleby's perspective. Ask for two volunteers-one to play the narrator in the scene and one Bartleby. Tell them that you will read while the actors pantomime relevant physical and facial movements of the characters. Let students know that after the performance, they will be able to interview the two characters as well as the actors.

Note: This activity calls for the teacher to read the scene as it is from the text and for the volunteers to pantomime as they move around in the space, in relation to each other and with key artifacts. By having the teacher read, the focus is on the volunteers as they inhabit and flesh out the characters. In so doing, they fill out multiple gaps in the text. The audience takes a stance toward those decisions and can further disseminate them in the interviews afterward.

4. Read the Collaborative Reenactment Scene handout. Stop where indicated on the handout to ask the actor playing Bartleby to consider what his character was doing while the narrator was walking around. Let both actors know they should continue to pantomime what they think the characters did during this time (e.g., Bartleby tidying up, the narrator walking around the neighborhood).

5. After the pantomime is over, ask the audience: "What questions would you like to ask these characters?" Allow students to ask the actors about the choices their characters made (for example, how they felt or their perspectives about the other, why they made certain decisions). If this does not happen spontaneously, you can start the discussion by asking, "Bartleby, how did it feel when you heard the Narrator's key in the lock? Where did you go after?" It is also valuable to interview the actors on their experience. Some model questions include: "What did it feel like to be the Narrator? To be Bartleby? When you were playing this character, what did you notice about the other person?"

6. On an overhead or whiteboard, bring up the Bartleby Blog. Tell students this is the narrator's blog and he has posted a description of a problem in his office and needs advice. Tell them that fortunately he has a room full of smart people who have been thinking about him and his office situation for several days. All of them subscribe to his blog and will soon provide him with excellent advice.

7. Have students log onto the blog site. They can work independently or in pairs, depending on your access to computers. Tell them to read the narrator's post and think about what advice they can give him in his situation. Let them know that it is relevant and valuable for them to share their own experiences in and outside of school in relation to the advice they provide. Remind them to think about what they know about the characters involved and the setting/situation and to draw upon insights gained from the activities they have done, particularly from the homework for this session and the collaborative reenactment they just did. Ask them to bring this knowledge to bear as they give the narrator advice by writing a comment on the blog.

8. Time permitting, have students read each other's comments and respond with comments that relate to their thinking about the story and the characters.

9. About 10 minutes before class ends, distribute An Overview of Seneca Village. Students can read this as you bring up the Seneca Village website again. Highlight the following for students: (1) the people in Seneca Village lived in New York at the same time Melville wrote this story; (2) this was an integrated community at a time when enslavement was still legal in the United States; (3) Seneca Village was one of the few places in New York where African Americans owned land and that in New York, male landowners were allowed to vote; and (4) by the end of the decade, this community had been destroyed in order to create Central Park. Tell them for homework their job is to learn more about this community and the ways in which people resisted this injustice.

 

Homework
Students should finish reading "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street." They should also read the Seneca Village website with a focus on the life of Andrew Williams. As they do, they should attend to and take notes on what they learn about Williams's life, particularly in relation to what Williams owned and lost as a result of Central Park being created and how he resisted the eminent domain process. Ask them to reflect on what they learn with the following guiding questions:

  • How have they or would they try to resist the taking of their home, community, and land?

  • What connections do they see between Andrew Williams and Bartleby?

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Session 5: Synthesis and reflection (90 minutes)

1. Distribute the Excerpt from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" by Walt Whitman. Ask students to think about the quote from Whitman about reaching across time and note that Whitman wrote these words not long after "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" was published and around the time that Seneca Village was destroyed. Ask them what Whitman's words mean in the context of the work they have done in this lesson.

2. Ask students what the stories of Bartleby and Andrew Williams, which happened over 150 years ago, mean to their lives in the 21st century. How does the information about Seneca Village speak to Melville's story? What do these stories offer in relation to resistance, working with others, working for change in their worlds? Probe for connections to today and their current lives (i.e., school, neighborhood, the world at large). Considering having students record their statements so that they can draw upon them when making their collage.

3. Let students know they are going to create a visual text (i.e., collage) that represents their connections to what the stories of Bartleby and Williams offer them in relation to their own lives. Let them know their collage will be judged by the following criteria: (1) their reactions to the stories of Bartleby and Seneca Village; (2) their awareness of and reactions to shortcoming in both/either; (3) how these stories speak and do not speak to their lives; (4) at least one statement of a meaning, idea, or insight that "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" offers readers in thinking about their lives or world. Provide students with the Collage Checklist, which lists these criteria.

Students can work for about 30 minutes independently or in pairs to create their text. Provide supplies such as glue, magazines, scissors, markers, colored paper, tissue paper, and yarn. Encourage students to find and print images from the different websites used in the lesson (e.g., Seneca Village, NYPL Digital Gallery: Early Real Estate Atlases of New York, NYPL Digital Gallery: The Picture Collection of The New York Public Library, Bartleby's Blank Wall). Encourage them to also use relevant quotes from the story, Whitman, websites, their blog advice, as well as texts from their own lives and ideas from each other. Depending on your students, one possibility is to allow students to use iMovie or Moviemaker to create a movie with the images and quotes from the bookmarked websites.

If some students have difficulty getting started, allow them to visit one or more other students who have begun their work to get ideas. If more support is needed, confer individually or in a small group to talk through and generate ideas in relation to each prompt. Help students (1) see how the work they have done in the previous sessions can be useful in addressing the criteria, and (2) articulate the connections or disconnections they have to Bartleby or Seneca Village. Often students who are the most hesitant can find starting with a disconnection an engaging place to begin.

4. Have students share their collages in a gallery walk. As students circulate around the room and read through their peers' creations, have them look for themes they see in each other's responses to "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street."

5. Share observations in a class discussion. Probe for students' sense of what they gained as readers, thinkers, and knowledgeable people in the world through their work in this unit.

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Assess patterns of difficulty evidenced at the end of the role-play activity in Session 1. Do students have a general sense of these two characters? Were they able to articulate resistances these characters engaged in? If not, you can provide more explicit support by modeling a role-play interaction that highlights the characters’ resistance. Ask students to identify the kinds of resistances they saw in the role-play.

  • Collect students’ images/representations of the story elements from Session 2. Assess them in relation to students’ awareness of particular elements (e.g., characters, settings). This general assessment can be further supported with the following questions:
  1. Is there evidence that the student read the assigned pages?
  2. Are the representations on a literal or metaphorical level?
  3. Do the symbols evidence a preliminary or developing sense of the characters or theme?

If you observe that students are not reading the assigned text, talk to them about their obstacles and consider extending the session times so that there is time to read in class.

  • Review the notes that students have taken from their reading of the Seneca Village website (homework for Sessions 3 and 5). Are they documenting key ideas? Are they documenting aspects that are relevant to the setting? For Session 3 homework, do they have information on all three communities? If you observe that students do not have notes or the notes are superficial and cannot contribute to their understanding of the time period, talk with them about why they have not done their work, and work with them on the website to support them in reading from this source. If many students have this issue, consider doing a minilesson for the whole class on note-taking from websites.

  • Evaluate the texts students create in Session 3 involving retelling Bartleby’s resistance. Assess how well the text:
  1. Incorporates insights from Ginger Nut's perspective
  2. Represents the experiences of the specific community with which the students were to work
  3. Represents the interaction and details presented in Melville's text.

Issues in relation to #1 may relate to discomfort or lack of skill in exploring a text from a nonliteral level; issues in relation to #2 may indicate an undeveloped understanding of the history or the purpose in combining the history in thinking about Bartleby; issues in relation to #3 may indicate an over-emphasis on personal response and creativity. Address these issues through scaffolded minilessons.

  • Assess the results from the blog post activity in Session 4 for the following:
  1. How are students incorporating their understanding of the characters and situation?
  2. To what extent are they bringing their own perspectives (i.e., ideas, experiences, opinions) into dialogue with the narrator's problem?

In relation to significant gaps in either or both of these areas, confer with students. In conferring, some areas to explore include how they understood the assignment, if they can verbally give advice to the narrator (i.e., was it the technology or writing piece that got in the way?), and where they are in their reading of the story.

  • Use the Collage Rubric to evaluate the collage/movie/image text that students created in Session 5. Provide students with feedback regarding the strengths of their work and areas to which they need to attend. Conference with students who receive a majority of 1s or 2s for their work about the experience with the readings and/or with the collage assignment.

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