Thursday, January 22, 2009

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Due to the short week, I have not finished the poetry unit with my students yet. That'll happen next week. In the meantime we've been working with the students on their writing and I've been working on a new unit dealing with Dr. King's "Letter From A Birmingham Jail", which I think is his most impressive work, including his speeches. Despite the fact that most of my students are black, very few know that he wrote a letter from jail, much less the content or even what prompted him to write it in the first place. I plan on fixing that lack of knowledge with this lesson. Now the letter is a long one, nine pages to be exact and it's a complex piece of literature, full of Biblical references and other imagery that take time to process properly.

At first this was going to be a four day lesson. The first day we were going to read the public statement written by Birmingham Clergy telling Dr. King that his activities were well intentioned but the wrong answer for the question of racial equality in Birmingham. It was this statement that prompted Dr. King to write his famous letter. The next three days we were going to go over the letter in three page chunks, answering questions and creating posters or power points about the letter and what it meant to them personally.

So I had finished the statement and the activities for the first 2/3 of the letter, and I wanted to get a second opinion on my questions that the students would answer so I gave it to my co-teacher to get her opinion. She was impressed with the questions which made my day and the pointed out that I was going waaaaaay to fast and that there was no way I could cover the material in just 4 days, now that didn't ruin my day but it did bring me back to earth.

Armed with this reality check I started to redo the lesson and my short unit is now two full weeks long. Now my plan is to do a page a day and mix in some group work along with answering questions and writing essays. The nice thing is that I don't have to start over, just slow the heck down. My goal for the unit is to give the students a real (as opposed to "I have a dream") insight into how Dr. King thought and why he took the actions he did, as well as give them real insight into the multitude of opposition that he faced from both blacks and whites.

Of course having a good lesson plan only goes so far. It'll be interesting to see how they react to the lesson and the work that is going to go along with truly understanding the letter and the author.

Wish me luck, I think I'm going to need it.