Tuesday, December 3, 2013

That Moment When the Class Finally.....

I was beginning to think it would never happen, that inner click you feel as an educator when your class corporately buys into the book you are reading. But it happened today, and what a relief.

DAY ONE: Name choosing and nametag making was fine, fun, childish, unacademic, and silly--but good team-building. 

DAY TWO: It did NOT go well. We began with a Golding bio--fine as it went, and then started the book from the Pulitzer Prize winner. But the yards of description Golding pours into the island bogged us down (my exact 10th grade reaction: "Who CARES about all this stuff?? Tell the story, already!").  Boring. Yawn. I brought out the conch--mild interest--passed it around--mild interest. Sigh. I assigned the rest of chapter one for homework. I felt defeated.

DAY THREE: I passed out leadership style readings. This was a bit more interesting. In their islands they had to connect the styles to the boys and write down where in the text their support was. I asked, "Was this activity ok?" B., who LOVES to learn, said sincerely, "This was fun!" But MR. gave me that apologetic head tilted smile that said just as loudly, "Not really." I still felt better because the groups were talking. We launched the next chapter and made lists of the boys, their traits, the symbols, and our designations of meanings. The list-making was full-class but half-hearted. I trusted that list, though. I was thrilled when the kids posted Ralph as democratic and Jack as autocratic. Small victories when things aren't going your way can feel like huge ones.

DAY FOUR: I began chapter three with a handout about characteristics of Christ figures I teacher-stole from a wonderful teacher in Pennsylvania. More interest, especially when we looked at Obi-wan Kenobe, Gandalf, and Dumbledore in that light (they weren't familiar with Cool Hand Luke). "Is Simon going to die?" asked an astute person. "Perhaps, but necessarily--do you think Simon will be crucified or resurrected?" I returned. The normally jolly N. was uncharacteristically scornful: "Number 11 on this list is dumb! No one is a carpenter!" And so we began the chapter only to find the Simon is helping Ralph build a hut. "He IS a carpenter!" someone yelled triumphantly. Things were looking up. They finished chapter 3 over break. The Christ figure trope was a revelation for them, a novelty, cool and adult.

DAY FIVE: We pretty much straight read chapter 4 as a class, adding to our list about the boys. I talked about symbols, and the kids were a bit more into the drama. My VP walked into watch. Wish I had something better than reading aloud. Nope.

DAY SIX: But then today. Ah. Half the students read about Rousseau and the other half about Hobbes. Then we had a Chalk Talk--I had prepared the classroom with ten quotes, half from R, half from H, and the students responded to the quotes and to each others' responses using dry erase markers. It was like having ten silent conversations at once! I had warned them about writing stupid things like "I like turtles," but about three boys couldn't help themselves (Hobbes would say that--and I will use that tomorrow as an example in class). When we began to review chapter four, a shift happened. I don't know what, but the kids began to see the story as a story of human nature. I let them talk. "Would the kids treat Piggy differently if he looked different?" "I think Jack punching Piggy is a sign of civilization running down." (!!) "But what about the cover on this book? Why is that giant fly near Piggy? Is he Lord of the Flies?" And off the discussion ran: who WAS Lord of the Flies?

God bless this ambiguous cover
I finally shared what any bible-reading, church-going Protestant fifty years ago would know, that The Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub, Satan. (I did this by showing Wikipedia's entry and scrolling to the verses in the bible in Matthew 12.) The kids got excited about the reference to the house divided--"The island is dividing!" And then they wondered if the Beast, or maybe Jack, was the Lord of the Flies. Someone wondered if Piggy's name was connected to the pigs on the island. "The names are significant," is all I would say until a girl jokingly asked if Ralph was going to vomit since his name is slang for vomit. "His name means 'counselor,' I said. A thrill ran through the class, I felt it. I decided to share with them the secret of names that had captivated me decades earlier.  Above the lists of the boys, the students watched as the meanings of the names were written:
Ralph - counselor
Jack - supplanter, usurper
Simon - listener
Roger - spear

"Piggy's name is significant because it means what it says." And the class blew up--"Piggy is going to die, not Simon!" "Simon is going to save Piggy because he is the Christ figure!" "Jack is evil and must be the Lord of the Flies!" They were all* so excited and absorbed, making connections and predictions--"Roger is Jack's tool to kill Piggy, just like Jack speared the real pig!" "Jack broke Piggy's glasses, does that mean the end of intelligence?" OK, cue the bell.

Tomorrow we will look for Hobbes and Rousseau in the text and have a quiz contest among the islands groups. But I believe that when I assign chapter five as homework the kids will enjoy it. FINALLY.

*"All" is a relative term. Do 36 students ALL do anything at the same time? In a class of 36, many of whom are introverts, it is sometimes difficult to be accurate about "all." I use it here in the teacher sense of "heavy majority with 36 sets of eyes looking alert."


  1. Day 6 sounds amazing glad it is working out!

    I loved Lord of the Flies... I don't remember if the island description bogged me down or not but I certainly remember it got better as I read anyways. I also didn't read the book for the first time until 10th grade though.

  2. Thanks, Joel--I think they are "in it" now. I do fear their reactions when the boys do the unthinkable....Day 6 was a teacher's dream come true! I read this in 10th grade, also--it was painful the way Hunger Games was painful....

  3. They are digging the story now, except one girl who stayed after class: 'Isn't this just a story about how things are falling apart? Does anything else happen?" I didn't know how to answer her!

  4. Tell her to read "Things Fall Apart" ;) (Also a good book - I thought it was memorable)

  5. Ah, clever! (I read it and yes, there are some parallels, although I think Achebe might sympathize more with Rousseau than Hobbes)