Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Johnny Cash: The Man, The Myth, The Instructional Tool

The cyclical spiral of instruction lands us back on plot structure in time for the Response To Literature -- an essay so dreaded among teachers of English Language Learners it garners proper noun status -- and also upon conflict.

::channeling Frank McCourt:: Yes, a problem, yes, we know mister, we know. They telled us this already. A problem.

I do a brief riff on internal vs. external, soliciting prior knowledge of our prefixes ex- and in- and providing some concrete examples:
1) A pit bull chases J. down the street.
2) D. is really mad at K., but is afraid to tell her why.*
and then pass out "A Boy Named Sue," penned by our erstwhile hero, The Man In Black. I let em know it's a little country, so that emotion they will feel when I hit play? That's the sense of experiencing something new and not to worry, it will soon pass. In my head, I predict C. will headbang, D. will bust a few yee-haws and I am not let down.

The song plays, we all read along, I stop at a few critical points to check for understanding.
ME: What's he want?
THEM: To find his dad and kill him.
ME: Why?
THEM: Cuz he named him Sue.

When it's over and the laughs and scattered awws of disappointment over the "son-of-a-bleep" version I ask them to list all the different conflicts that appear in the song. My newly minted High Point C group got maybe 1.5, so I'm gearing for some serious prodding with this one-level lower class, but they come flying out of the gate with:

He feels ashamed of his name.
Kids make fun of his name.
He is trying to find his dad.
He cannot decide whether to shoot his dad or not.
He busts a guy in his head when he is younger.
He fights his dad.
He worries about what to name his own son.

Then we discuss each one, whether it is existing externally or internally, debate, reach consensus, and then put them in the appropriate category. I leave em with an example to work out for a closer, we do some flyswatter vocabulary slap attack, where I am forced to step in and handily defeat the class champions to even the score and set-up a climactic, winner take-all dual between two best friends, and then the bell rings, and those of us who met our reading goal last quarter get to go home.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, a transfer student from the western end of my county creeps in and hands me her schedule to peruse. She grabs a seat in back and watches with big eyes the confluence of Johnny Cash, flyswatters, and the POY coming in on his 5-minute snapshot observation thing and singing the first verse. "It's not always like this," I say, and she sort of shakes her head at me and hurries out.

*Answers from aforementioned examples:
1) external
2) internal


Blogger posthipchick said...

I like this; I might steal it myself for a Response to Literature lesson.

Those 4-minute observations are ridiculous, in my mind. I'll rant about it on my own blog.

7:41 PM  
Blogger pseudostoops said...

You could show "Walk the Line" later to illustrate the ills of drug addiction and make it a thematic unit!

4:49 AM  
Blogger foxjaws said...

While I love the Man In Black too, Shel Silverstein actually wrote that song. Very crazy huh? Sort of the dark side of the Giving Tree....

4:58 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

What a great lesson! Those kids will think of you every time they hear that song for the rest of their lives. "I had this crazy, great teacher once..."


5:38 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Shel Silverstein? I'm crushed. This is worse than when I found out he never actually was in Folsolm Prison. This is awful...

On a strange note, I'm teaching The Giving Tree as our Response To Literature selection today. Everything IS connected. And illuminated.

7:15 AM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

A post! A post! We would like a post! :-)

6:32 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...


A post! Yes! On a particular topic...?

9:37 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home