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One of the 2nd year English classes is studying the novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘. Their teacher (LC) has told me that she would like them to find out more about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

We’d talked about the famous ‘I have a dream‘ speech, so I was looking for transcripts and video to add to the school website. And of course, I was listening to the audio to make sure there wasn’t anything unexpected lurking in there.

As it ran through, I was struck by how many references would go straight over the pupils’ heads: references to Lincoln, and the Emancipation Proclamation and even the use of cheques! I was thinking what a shame that was, and then thought, hang on a minute, that’s precisely what they should do! Investigate the references; annotate the speech; print out the whole thing on a long, long, long  piece of paper and add notes and pictures explaining the whole thing.

(All of which reminded me of the wonderful Book Drum website, which incidentally has an excellent profile of To Kill a Mockingbird).

And along the way we can add in sessions on making notes and reliable websites and copyright and so forth 🙂

I was happy, LC was happy and we discussed the next stage of the plan which was put into action this afternoon. LC organised the pupils into teams, printed out the speech six times and gave each team member a pen and a task: folks with yellow pens should highlight unknown vocabulary; folks with purple pens should underline any unknown historical references; and the blue pens would circle anything else they didn’t understand.

And this is where the assumptions kick in.

Assumption 1: they were paying attention

We told the class that they could listen to Dr King actually giving the speech while they were reading. Any questions?

What are we doing?

So we repeated all the information and wrote the instructions on the board.  Everybody happy?

Miss? How are you supposed to pick out just the historical information when the whole thing happened in the past?

(OK, at least they’re paying attention now :-)) Fair point, just circle anything that seems to refer to something that’s happened in the past. All know what you’re doing?

And what does the yellow pen do?

Assumption 2: they understood

The vocabulary word for today is vocabulary. Try to use it in a sentence.

Anyway, a number of boring repetitions later, we were able to turn on the video. A couple of minutes in, we stopped it again. What have you underlined so far?

Er…

Who knows what a score is?

Like … marks

OK, hadn’t thought of that. They’re actually looking at a lot of the words individually, even if they then don’t make sense.

Assumption 3: the pupils would follow the words being spoken on their transcript
Assumption 4: they would actually do what we asked them

How long have I been in this job? You’d think I would know better by now.

Each trio either worked steadily at their own pace, ignoring the video altogether, or sat and watched the video and ignored the transcript completely. It was lovely when some applause even broke out at the end.

I was surprised by how many things that they hadn’t circled, highlighted or underlined, but they certainly got through a fair bit of the speech and had plenty of questions, of which the most unlikely was:

Miss, you know the N-word that refers to black people? Is it spelt with an -A or a -ER at the end?

A decent start, but how to move forward? We’re splitting the speech into different sections so each group only has so much to work on, but I’m very aware that we’re asking them to search for their own background knowledge. So, what’s the easiest way to help them?

Edited because I left some bits out first time

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