Title of Lesson: The Irony of Morality
Class/Level: 9th Grade ELA


OBJECTIVES:

  • This lesson is aligned with the NYS ELA learning standards 1, 2, 3, & 4 for grade 9: Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding, literary response and expression, critical analysis and evaluation, and social interaction.
  • Performance indicators (L=listening, R=reading, W=writing, S=speaking):
    • R2 - Recognize a range of literary elements and techniques, such as figurative language, allegory, irony, symbolism, and stream of consciousness, and use these elements to interpret the work
      • Check for understanding of texts by engaging in oral reading activities, such as read-arounds, to identify and provide effective examples of literary elements
    • R3 - Analyze and evaluate fiction, including:
      • The development of a central idea or theme.
      • The development of characters and their actions
      • The elements of the plot, such as conflict, climax, and resolution
    • R4 - Share reading experiences with a peer or adult; for example, read together silently or aloud or discuss reactions to texts.
    • R4 - Consider the age, gender, social position, and cultural traditions of the writer
    • W4 - Identify and model the social communication techniques of published authors
    • L1 - Recognize appropriate voice and tone
    • L2 - Connect literary texts to prior knowledge, personal experience, and contemporary situations.
    • L2 - Identify multiple levels of meaning in presentation of literary texts.
    • L3- Evaluate the possible bias of the speaker, in order to judge the validity of the content.
    • S3 - Articulate personal opinions to clarify stated positions
    • S4 - Speaking informally with familiar and unfamiliar people, individually and in group settings

EXPECTED STUDENT OUTCOMES

  • Students will identify Mark Twain as the author of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Students will identify, demonstrate, and define the poetic device of irony within the allotted class period.
  • Students will examine the concept of morality from the novel’s opening and begin to develop a thesis on whether the premise of the novel is moral or immoral.
  • Students will compose a found poem that assesses their understanding of morality during the class period.

CENTRAL QUESTIONS

  • Is morality concrete or fluid? Who decides what is moral?
  • How effect does irony play on the reader? How is it employed?
  • The word “nigger” appears in the book 212 times. Does this make the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn racist? Is Twain racist?
  • How does Twain's use of irony in the novel affect readers?
  • Does it change the readers’ opinion of Twain and/or Huck?
  • Why does Twain construct Huck as innocent and ignorant?
  • If Twain is against slavery, why does he use irony instead of just coming out and saying what he means?
  • Is Twain's use of irony effective or confusing?
  • Although it is politically correct to accept another person's culture, is it always morally correct?

RATIONALE OF LESSON

  • Students will read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in order to compare and contrast other works by Twain; to analyze the effects of the Civil War on poetry and prose; and apply critical analysis to a work of fiction.
  • The issue of morality in Adventures of Huckleberry is one that existed when the novel was first published and still exists today as evidenced by the continued debate and banning of the novel from many schools and libraries.
  • This will precede later class activities whereas the students can explore censorship and examine the question “Why is it that you think people do not want you to read certain books?” and “What's the difference between a challenge and a banning?”
  • Students will be challenged to relate the historical aspect of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (i.e. Huck’s dilemmas) to their lives today and be asked to evaluate whether the world has progressed or not in terms of a moral compass.
  • Students will understand that the status quo does not mean something is morally proper; the goal is to provide students with the tools to make principled choices based on moral values rather than popular opinion.

CLASSROOM/BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT

  • Students will be placed into groups designated at the beginning of the school year (or possible modified as the teacher sees fit based on needs). These groups will be groups of four or five to allow for group discussion but be limited in size to allow each member the chance to participate.
  • Students will be expected to participate in all activities (i.e. read along, take notes, respond to questions, listen when others are talking)
  • Students’ parents will have been notified in advance as to the nature of the novel, its content being discussed in class, and the proceeding assessments. Parents will have the opportunity to discuss with their children any concerns they may have, and/or discuss with the teacher any concerns in regards to the novel, the discussions, or pertaining assessments. Parents will be made aware that the school and the district are in support of teaching the novel, but that the teacher is empathic to social and cultural issues and if possible will address any concerns as long as it does not deduce the learning opportunities of the students.

MODIFICATIONS

  • If an understanding cannot be reached with the parents as to their children participating in the class due to the nature of the lesson, an alternative PLE, which still maintains the same standards and purpose of the original PLE will be developed.
  • Resource notes will be provided for all students for review.
  • Supplementary class time will be available per request for additional reading time or discussion.

RESOURCES

  • Copies of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Resource books on Mark Twain.
  • Handout with Twain’s Notice, folded over.
  • “Concept of Definition Map” worksheet for Irony
  • Anticipated Reading Guide
  • Instructions for Found Poetry
  • Computer access: PowerPoint presentation.

PROCEDURE/TEACHING TECHNIQUES

  • Hook: The class will begin with reading Twain’s “Notice” at the novel’s beginning from a handout. The students will be asked to conclude the author’s intent by answering a question “Why does Twain not want the reader to examine the novel for motive, moral, or plot?” I will tell the students that despite their belief there is only one correct answer and there is actually a wrong answer. However, even if every person writes something different they will all get the “Right” answer. As their curiosity to this paradox is raised I will tell them that the “Right” answer is on the bottom half of their papers, which has been folded over, but not to look at the answer till I tell them. As is human nature they will obviously want to look whether they do or not. After reviewing their responses for a minute I will then ask them “What’s the one thing you all want to do right now?” The answer will be from at least one person “Look at the bottom of the paper.” I’ll ask the class why that is and “What do you want to do the minute someone tells you not to do something?” Usually they immediately understand that by asking the reader not to look for a motive, moral, and plot, Twain is making sure that the reader would do the opposite. (4 minutes)
  • I will then ask the class what sort of poetic device they think Twain employed in writing the notice to gauge whether they have a sense of what irony entails.
  • As a class we will define Irony using the “Concept of Definition Map” worksheet together. (8 minutes)
    • Twain uses a lot of irony in this book to give it a little humor. Most of the ironic situations stem out of Huck’s youth and gullibility. An example of verbal irony is given when Tom tell Huck of his new gang. Huck says, “But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable.” It is lucid to the readers that a band of robbers are not generally considered respectable.
      • There is also an example of dramatic irony when Huck tells of the drunken horseman at the circus. The readers know that the drunk was a trained acrobat but Huck does not see that.
  • The students will then fill out their Adventures of Huckleberry Finn “Anticipated Discussion Guide”. I will then identify to the class that one of the most ironic elements in the novel is morality. The novel’s morality is not ironic just because of what Twain wrote, but because of the public’s reception of the novel. (4 minutes)
  • The class will discuss if they believe the novel is racist or immoral based on some aspects of the novel. The class will discuss and analyze Huck's behavior throughout the novel, and decide whether they think Huck is a moral character. Students will then better understand his moral choices—and conflicts. They will compare Huck's dilemma to contemporary ones via the closing activity. (10 minutes )
    • The word “nigger” appears in the book 212 times. However, the people whom Huck and Jim encounter on the Mississippi are drunkards, murderers, bullies, swindlers, lynches, thieves, liars, frauds, child abusers, numbskulls, hypocrites, windbags and traders in human flesh. All are white. The one man of honor in this phantasmagoria is ‘Nigger Jim,’ as Twain called him to emphasize the irony of a society in which the only true gentleman was held beneath contempt.
    • Huck's sense of morality at repeated times seem quite flexible. He tells fibs on occasion and thinks the occasional "stretcher" is ok. At the same time he believes his word is his bond. He chafes against the rules imposed by both the Widow Douglas and Pap, but submits to them nonetheless. When he does break rules—and even the law—sometimes he feels guilty, sometimes not. And he can't seem to make up his mind about Jim.
    • Throughout the novel, Huck is troubled by the tensions between what society tells him is right and his own sense of morality—his conscience. In chapter 33, he even declares, "If I had a yaller dog that didn't know no more than a person's conscience does I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good, no how.”
    • Finally, despite the fact that Huck thinks he is wrong to help Jim escape, he declares, “all right I’ll go to hell…”
  • Following the discussion I will ask the class if what they wrote in their Anticipated Reading Guide is still the same so they can reevaluate their prior predictions.

ASSESSMENT

  • The students will write a found poem, which illustrates their synthesis.
    • Closing activity: Theme of the found poem - Where would Huck stand on the Civil Rights Movement? Protest against the Vietnam War? The war in Iraq? Abortion Clinics? The inclusion of the phrase, "under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance? If we believe one must follow the dictates of the law, how do we reconcile Huck as a hero? If we believe that it is moral to follow one's conscience, how do we decide which laws or social conventions are wrong? Who gives us the authority?

PowerPoint Presentation



REFLECTION

Reflecting on my lesson I am happy with it overall. I believe someone could easily pick up my lesson plan and replicate the lesson leading me to believe that I did a good job planning my activities, detailing their course, and explaining their rationale. The opening hook helped to cement interest, but more importantly relied on human nature to illustrate a point; thus, this kept the activity student centered as it focused the lesson on what the students’ contemplation in relation to the lesson’s premise.
I was also pleased that I was able to present a theme of the novel (i.e. morality) and a literary device (i.e. irony) in tandem during the lesson and show how the author uses one another to convey his message. I was also pleased with the response to the Found Poetry assessment. I am not sure now if it was the superlative assessment for the lesson; however, I wanted to share this assignment with the class because I like the exercise so much and I wanted them to be familiar with it so they could use it in their later lessons. Since writing poetry is a standard and many students feel queasy when told they have to write a poem I think this assessment is golden. Overall, I believe I accomplished the goals of my lesson, but still feel there are some improvements that could make it better.
There are some weaker points I noticed during the lesson itself. For instance, when I used Gary Larson’s Far Side comics as an example for irony I noticed that one of the students had a ponderous look on her face. Whether this was because she was not familiar with the Far Side comic in general or because she did not know how the comic itself relied on irony for its punch line I am not sure. Nevertheless, I had taken for granted that every one would know the Far Side and neglected to provide a case in point. I tried to select general and easy examples, so everyone would grasp my example, but it was flawed reasoning to assume someone’s familiarity with something simply because I supposed it was common knowledge. While this assumption may happen on occasion I can account for it by providing actual examples (e.g. the actual Larson comic) regardless of it popularity or timelessness. Also, I believe a few of my slides might have had too much on them. Normally, I would have handed out printed copies as reading notes, but in this case the slides provided reactions or counters to many of the queries in the Anticipated Discussion Guide. I should remember more slides
with less info per slide is better than fewer slides with more information. Also, I neglected to show the piece of prose where I had taken my found poem from; although I told the class where it was from, that is not a substitute for showing them. I was lucky in the respect that this class was educated enough to comprehend the assessment and proceed nevertheless, but that was a lucky break. This fact was made more lucid to me as I watched others’ lessons and realized that regardless of the assignment or its implied ease that lucid and concisely detailed instructions need to be provided at every step. I am sure it still would have been beneficial for the class to see how I progressed. I am happy that I at least provided an example of my own hand of the assignment; I believe this always makes it easier for people to understand what they are supposed to be attempting when they see another person's end result.
Nevertheless, as I stated earlier I am happy with the way my lesson progressed and I believe that just as my seventh period classes always seem to flow easier and enjoy the lesson more than my first period classes, because I pick up little nuances and elements, I will improve the lesson with each teaching.