How to Slay a Giant and Teach at the Same Time

As a freshmen teacher, I face certain challenges.  Every year I get students who lack study skills, lack organizational skills, and lack life skills in general.  I find none of these students to be challenging when the right lessons and structures are instituted.  Easy peasy.  Even though I work at a PK-12 charter school, at the high school level, I still have students with various backgrounds.  Some know this.  Some know that, but not every one knows the same information.  No problem.  I’ve got this.  None of these challenges bring me down.

No, the problem I’ve found most daunting is how to get students to want to annotate and read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.  

Annotation is always a struggle with students.  Even with the traditional “grade” encouragement, I still have students who refuse.  Instead they want to be passive learners.  Why not?  They scroll through Facebook passively.  I’m convinced most of my students aren’t even “reading” a single post.  They’re just scrolling. If they see a post, they might “Like” it, but they rarely pause to interact with it or comment on it.  Likely most of them have given up Facebook entirely for Instagram or SnapChat, two platforms that rely on pictures rather than text. They even passively watch T.V.  Most of them pausing a moment on a channel before moving on to another.

Even when given options to interact with material, students are reluctant to engage.  They want to be passively entertain, but when they have to annotate, they have to think.  Passive learning? Not. On. My. Watch.

The other challenge I face at this time of the year is Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.  Mythology is instantly engaging for students.  Whenever I want to get student interested in the content of my class, all I have to do is utter the word “mythology,” and they are hooked.  Many of them don’t know a thing about it, but there’s something magical and mystical about it, and they want to learn.   When I introduce the subject, we play games and share prior knowledge, but then I pass out the required text–Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, the most thorough collection and assessment of Greek and Roman mythology, their faces fall.  I feign excitement…okay, maybe my excitement is real…Hamilton is brilliant even if her writing style is not, but developmentally, my students aren’t ready to accept that.

Over the years I’ve peppered Hamilton’s text with exciting interpretations of the tales.  This year I’m encouraging my honors students to struggle through Ovid. But honestly, I can never replace her knowledge with those kinds of texts especially when it comes to her introduction.

I teach the introduction every year. I could easily cave to the student whining:

“But it’s hard.”

“It’s boring.”

“Honestly, Mrs. Smith.  I fell asleep reading it.”

However, I think it holds value for not only explaining what makes Greek mythology special, but also in giving students the much needed experience reading an academic essay.

I never let challenges stand in my way.  NEVER.  And what’s better than nailing two birds with one stone?  Call me David because I’m going to slay this giant.

Here’s how:

I’ve pasted enlarged  copies of passages from Hamilton’s introduction on butcher paper.  I grouped students according to the difficulty of their particular passage as well as their reading abilities (unbeknownst to them–I can’t give away all of my secrets) using data from previous assessments.

I posted annotation instructions on the board with color coding.  I had students use particular colors to mark the text.  They underlined and defined unfamiliar words with a green marker.  (This was great for formatively assessing their vocabulary level and their ability to utilize context clues.  It was very telling.)  I had them use purple for circling unusual or powerful diction.  Then they had to categorize the words and figure out Hamilton’s tone.  They underlined key points in blue and wrote a one-sentence summary at the bottom.  Finally, they asked questions of the text in red.  (I used these questions for discussion once they completed the assignment).

The lesson was a hit.  The students practiced valuable interactive reading skills.  They worked together.  They finally engaged with the text, and once they began to analyze it and question it, they found it to be more interesting than they originally thought.

UPDATE:  I just completed grading my Semester 1 Final.  Students were able to accurately respond to questions based on the introduction.  It seems like I know what I’m doing…at least some of the time.


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