Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Arts in the English Classroom: Symbolism in _The Things They Carried_

I'm incorporating a lot of art into my new PBL curricula, and I'm doing so for many reasons. First, art creates deep learning experiences because students not only become fully immersed in what they're doing, but they also have to think about creative choices in ways that are more critical than if they simply had to memorize material. As I listen to my students -- who are currently making graphical representations of a symbol in The Things They Carried, I not only hear things such as "Who has the glitter?" and "Does anyone have a black colored pencil?", I'm also hearing, "Well, the lack of a head symbolizes the chaotic political state during the Vietnam War" and "We'll make a mask to represent the fact that the whole war is a charade."

Creating art in English also engenders the type of joyful learning I want my students to experience, turning class into a kindergarten environment where sophisticated thinking also takes place. Art also allows learning to be a close, personal experience, not something unrelated to the real world. Of course, in PBL the goal is always to connect the learning to life in an authentic way.

Following is the final assignment due next Monday on symbolism in The Things They Carried. I can't wait to see what the final projects will look like:

Finish your poster. Make sure it has a graphic representation of the symbolism you're exploring in the vignette you chose to close read. Your poster also has to include a quotation from or reference to the text. It also has to include a short analysis of how the symbol works in the book. FINALLY: each one of you -- not as a group; this is an individual assignment -- must write a reflection piece on the following: think about the chapters from Thomas Foster* you read; the vignette and how you analyzed it; and the discussions we had in class about _The Things They Carried_ and literary techniques. Then write a reflection piece about what you learned from the assignment and how it could apply to your own development and skills as a writer. The assignment must be at least 2-3 paragraphs long. 

*  To prepare for this assignment, I had the students read chapters called "Is that a Symbol?" and "More Than It's Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence" from Thomas Foster's highly readable book How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Here are some students' responses to the chapters:

Three student responses:

1. Writing as well as reading are both events of the imagination.
2. Symbols can symbolize numerous things. It depends on how the reader interprets them.

I found two things very interesting in How To Read Literature Like A Professor. Firstly I found it interesting that he said that all deaths have meaning but also said that in detective stories the deaths rarely cause feeling. Secondly I thought it was interesting that symbols can't mean just one thing, and that symbols can be actions and not only words.

The most interesting thing about How to Read Like a Professor is the style of writing that Thomas Foster used. He writes in a very engaging manner, as if speaking directly to the reader. Thomas Foster also gives a lot of credit to the imagination of the reader. He says that some times the imagery and symbolism is there because the reader wants it to be. Most people just assume that the writer meant everything they are picking up on.

Fingerpainting in English class! 

Look at how this work developed in only 3 days of class time!

We're going to exhibit the assignment in the school,
so students are creating exhibition cards explaining their work.

Additional resources:

For more information on PBL, check out this great article from edutopia

Arts Integration Resources

1 comment:

  1. I love that the kids are getting out of their chairs/desks. I love that they are working in groups. I love that they are getting their hands dirty. I love that they are curating their own exhibit. I love that they are having fun while learning!!