Context as a precursor to critical thinking
Year 10 are part way through their novel study unit and with my low literacy class we are looking at the series Bloodlines, which involves following characters through various world wars and conflicts.
This was a perfect novel through which to study context, because it involves a lot of investigation by students of different battles, developing research skills, and also involves them thinking about how the context of the author shapes the story.
We spent a couple of lessons investigating WWII from different perspectives, with students having to then produce a newspaper article from one of these perspectives.
We then moved on to reading our first novel, which the students LOVED.
This week, we have been looking at the historical, geographical and personal context of the author and separating this from the contextual information required to understand the story. As part of this, students were required to reflect upon their own historical, geographical and personal context.
Students then had to investigate a context different to their own (some chose a different culture, some chose a different historical period) and write a narrative which used jargon in the same way as our novel, to give the reader an understanding of the context and give their story a sense of authenticity.
This week students will finish their narrative and we will reflect upon, as a class, how the context of an author shapes the plot, the narration style, and the themes of the novel. Students have already made the preliminary links in this critical thinking process, recognizing that having the main character as a war hero is shaped by the author’s occupation and experience as a veteran and the knowledge this entails.
We will then look at The Diary of Anne Frank, and contrast the points of view, forms of the text and how the different contexts of the authors shaped the content and themes of the two novels.
For these kids, critical thinking is something I have tried hard to embed into their teaching and learning programs, and in this unit in particular, I have tried to get them to think critically about both the content (why write about a war? What is a “hero” in war? Whose side in a war is “right” or the “winner”?) and the writing style of the novel (whose story is told? How are the nazis demonized?). I have used a lot of literacy strategies to do this, in particular graphic organizers, predicting activities, and teaching students to recognize different types of passages, sentences and words which give clues about character, context and themes, as well as narrative perspective.