We're doing a genre study of biographies and this week, we've been closely reading about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All week, we worked through one biography in our reading minilessons about Dr. MLK, Jr. We read the text. We decided what made it a biography. We carefully digested the text by creating a graphic organizer chronicling his life. We asked ourselves "what is this author trying to help me understand?" and wrote sticky notes justifying our thinking. Then, it was Friday.
Two weeks ago I went to a workshop on Close Reading. It was like being back in school for me, and it was energizing and refreshing. I learned some new strategies and I couldn't wait to try them out. So yesterday, to close out our week of focusing on Dr. MLK, Jr.'s biography, I launched our work for the day with a 2 minute clip of the "I Have a Dream" speech. Watch here, from about minute 12:00 to minute 14:00. Before viewing, I frontloaded a question: what jumps out at you? What WORDS jump out at you? WHY?
We discussed for a moment what jumped out at students. I told students to turn and talk to the person next to them about this. I heard amazing tidbits of conversation going down. I heard things like:
"He keeps repeating the phrase "I Have a Dream" over and over again..."
"He's talking to so many people and this speech is not just for him, it's for everyone..."
"There are white people standing behind him supporting him"
"His voice jumps out at me"
"He's talking about white and black boys and girls joining hands because some places, they couldn't."
The energy in our room was electric right then. When I asked students to turn back to me, they begged to watch it again! I said we'd end our reading block that day by watching it again and discussing it a bit more. But for now, I had something just as special in store.
I've been really working with students on close reading...purposefully rereading texts with specific focuses in mind to dig deeper and develop a fuller understanding. One strategy I learned at the workshop I attended was using multiple, varied sources for close reading, like video and photographs.
So, here was my next move. I displayed this image on the SMARTBoard:
I modeled what I was going to have students do carefully. I gave a good 10 seconds of think time to view the photo and then I said. Okay...I notice MLK Jr. is linking arms with two white men and they are smiling. This makes me think they are proud to be standing up for what they believe is right at heart. Then a student couldn't help but pipe in. She said "but I notice the woman in the background is looking off to the side frowning..." and I said "oh, I hadn't noticed that. It makes me wonder if she is worried that she's taking a risk by protesting?" Then I moved on to a bit more inferential thinking and I said "here's what I think this photo is really about: Dr. MLK Jr. is marching because he is making a point--a point that he is longing for equal rights, and people all around him, black, white, whatever--are too." We wrote all of this on the SMARTBoard together.
Finally, after much hype, I gave students their own photo to analyze and write about. And when I gave them this photo...a shocked, deeply engaged calm kind of swept through the room and it was awesome. Here's the photo I gave to students:
And here's what some of them wrote about it:
"I notice MLK Jr.'s face looks calm..."
"I notice two white policemen are arresting him. They're young. They think what he's doing is wrong. But they're wrong."
"I notice Dr. MLK Jr. is wearing fancy clothes and a fedora...it looks weird to be arresting him when he's dressed so nicely..."
"I notice his hand is waving, like maybe reassuring his family or his people."
All of these noticings made for rich discussions...because your students were getting to the meat of what this photo really means. We talked about this photo really meant that it was not fair for him to be arrested for standing up for equal rights and more.
We watched the video one last time. This time, students picked out MANY key words in Dr. MLK Jr.'s speech. Many more than after the initial viewing. This is what close reading is all about. It's like when you watch a movie for a second time and notice something you didn't notice the first. So this time, students said the words that jumped out at them were:
"I have a dream..."
"LET FREEDOM RING!"
"The places he was mentioning were all in the south...Mississippi, Tennessee..."
And to end our time together, one student piped up: "Guys, we are doing all of this for a big reason. So we keep our country's mistakes in mind for our future."
Yes, this is why I am doing this with your students, summed up perfectly from one of our own seven-year-olds. This is why I teach your students, for moments like these.