The teaching of To Kill A Mockingbird offers a tremendous opportunity for teachers to help students communicate on several major issues that they must deal with in life but seldom have the chance to discuss. The very issues and terms that make the book a challenge to teach are in fact opportunities to "heal" wounds and scars that have long remained unaddressed.
The TKM Writing Team who put together the teacher study guide, believes the most important part of teaching this book is how the teacher prepares him- or herself and how he prepares the class. This is critical because students will hear terms and discuss themes that can cause discomfort and hard feelings. Teachers who have not sensitized themselves to the emotional power that this book is capable of unleashing as students bring their personal life experiences to its reading, can find themselves in a divisive rather than unifying teaching and learning experience. It is important that time be devoted to preparing students adequately.
One method of prepping we recommend is the use of themes. The first class period might be spent discussing gender related issues, since Scout (Harper Lee) plays such a prominent part in the story, offering the point of view of a young white Southern female who was faced with having to tell her story at a time of great social and racial upheaval in the South. "Gender Issues - Then and Now" might be a great kickoff discussion, followed by "Issues of Class - Then and Now", "Laws and Justice for the Rich and Poor - Then and Now."
This sequence of building to the more sensitive issues and terms, like the use of racial slurs, could be critical for some students to feel comfortable moving on to a process of analyzing and gaining an appreciation of the power of this novel. Without this classroom preparation students may dwell on sensitive issues and terms they have not had an opportunity to discuss openly in advance. They may feel that they are being treated with disrespect in not being given an opportunity to express themselves about these sensitive issues. Preparing in this way for the teleconferences or for your classroom environnment can enable students to trust and feel "safe" to express themselves under your leadership, and develop excellent questions for our special guests and panelists.
Special Considerations by Charles Suhor, Deputy Executive Director, National Council of Teachers of English, and Larry Bell, Supervisor of Multicultural Education, Prince William County Public Schools
The Divided World of TKM: Key Observations for Consideration by Teachers by Dr. Joanne Gabbin, Professor of English, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Whether or not your students have studied the novel or the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird, the activities below will prepare them for consideration of many of the themes likely to be discussed in class.
Like prereading and prewriting exercises, these activities engage students productively in initial reflection and interaction. As students explore their own experiences, ideas, and feelings about themes and issues in TKM, they develop personal frames of reference for the presentations.
The suggested activities here should be seen as examples. You might find one or all or none of them are suitable for your students. You might also adapt them in ways that are most comfortable for your class.
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Prince William County School
Manassas, VA 21110.