"Could Frankenstein really do that?" I was surprised the first time I was asked that; not surprised that I was asked, but surprised that I was asked by only one student. Because, for me, that question was immediate upon my first reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (and my first viewing of the James Whale film and my twentieth viewing of the James Whale film and the reciting word-for-word of Young Frankenstein).
Is it possible to reanimate a dead body? Could you actually harness that much electricity without blowing up the manor house? What about the servants? Didn’t they SEE something when they were in the lab tidying up?
I might be stretching it but that one question inspired my quest for and continued belief in what I call “connective curriculum”, wherein I suggest to students: “Don’t just read the book, LEARN something!”
I am a card-carrying, don’t-get-me-started-at-a-cocktail party, inveterate teacher, reader, explorer-of and believer in classical literary works and their timeless and timely power.
I believe they ARE relevant, CAN excite and interest students, and MUST be revered. But in order to make all that happen, students needed to do more than just read the book.
I discovered there was a direct connection between the introduction of broad and involving information related to a selection and my students’ interest in reading it. Examples are; how the sociological effects of the Civil War influenced Louisa May Alcott’s writing of Little Women, the still existing Roman architecture of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (officials think they’ve actually found the door sill where Caesar fell); and, when reading Poe, the emergence of forensic science.
Now, we all know there are boundless resources for these kinds of ancillary and additional studies. The trick is picking what information to explore, and here’s what helped me:
1) Know the selection Backwards, forwards, inside-out. This knowledge directs and determines what extended or secondary information you choose to explore in order to enrich the reading.
2) Pare it down. I didn’t find hours of documentaries or piles of supplementary material on every single word, idea, location, event in our selection. Stick with what is significant to YOU.
3) Read aloud. We had great success in vocabulary and reading comprehension when students followed along silently while I, not other students, read aloud. We already know language in an American or British classic is different from contemporary patterns. Hearing the words read fluently, along with seeing the words, creates a kind of immersion into the language, allowing the meaning (therefore the understanding) to be more immediate.
Lists of pedagogy and "best practices" spiral through education like contestants on The Bachelor. But compelling results from recent research confirms what a lot of us already know; students need a balance of reading both literary works and informational text. We also know that making connections between a piece of literature and meaningful information relating to it is a giant “scaffolding” step. It helps students to understand a selection by exploring causes, effects and influences that contributed to its writing.
This is not new. As a teacher, you already expand the “edges” of a subject by including many different ways to look at it (ie, the use of sports in math and science; including current events in history or social studies) and there is a very good reason for that: it WORKS! A varied and inclusive target (today’s student) benefits from a varied and inclusive approach to exploring anything.
Connective curriculum is broad enough to appeal to the most “free-spirited” educator as well as the (pardon the pun) “by-the-book” type. It is also a perfect fit for a Project/Problem Based learning module, providing a number of traits that contribute to the success of that teaching/learning model:
1) Most significantly, it is REAL-WORLD based - that’s the point. It is designed to reveal "real" elements of a fictional work.
2) It is INTERDISCIPLINARY. This is also the point – finding connections between other subjects and a particular fictional work.
3) Depending on your focus of exploration, it can most certainly satisfy any LEARNING BY DOING or COOPERATIVE/GROUP expectations.
Albert Einstein said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, it’s imagination." Mark Twain said: “Get your facts first, THEN you can distort them."
But Benjamin Franklin said: “Write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
A "connective curriculum" challenge, if I ever heard one.
Regia Sargent is a retired American/British classical literature teacher, who is passionate about cross-curricular learning, and is the creator of the Spike Literature line of resources
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