Saturday, March 31, 2012

Learning Trayvon Martin

Extra credit is a rarity in my classroom.  In general, I offer it when I need class supplies (tissues, posterboard, etc.) and I will occasionally reward those who make an effort to support the local blood drive.  But those things?  Happen maybe once a year, and the supplies bonus generally happens once every other year (or even every three years).

This year, however, there have been some interesting learning experiences that I thought made great extra credit projects.  First, I allowed students to comment on Siobhan Curious' question about plagiarism.  While many of their answers were simplistic, I think I learned that plagiarism really isn't a big deal to them.  It's a matter of expediting a fairly time consuming process.  (I plan to address that issue in my classroom in detail next year.)

The second extra credit activity was born out of a conversation with Favorite.

For the most part, high school students are fairly insular.  They think about themselves and, in general, have difficulty determining how things apply to the world at large.  (This isn't always the case; it's a generalization).  That said, any time I can get them to watch the news or determine how something in the news applies to a piece of literature in the classroom, I jump on it.

Enter Trayvon Martin.

I have a lot of questions about the Trayvon Martin case.  Favorite and I have watched the case unfold with interest.  After all, there are many factors that just aren't clear at this point in time.  For example, is this a racially motivated case?  Was the self-appointed neighborhood watchman (George Zimmerman) right to be suspicious of the kid walking through a gated community?  If the 911 operator told Zimmerman to leave Martin alone, why was he not arrested when he pursued and shot Martin?

There are several other questions without definite answers at this stage in the game.  But I wondered if the case bore any resemblance to the Emmett Till case in the 1950s--a case my students have just discovered through classroom activities over To Kill a Mockingbird.

I refused to give my students any personal opinions about the case.  (Oddly enough, most of the parents who came to parent/teacher conferences made some snap judgments regarding what I thought without even asking...)  I told them I'd like them to research the case, and write a paper that compares it to the Emmett Till situation and the Tom Robinson case from TKAMB.

Their conclusions?  I have no idea yet.  But I'm really interested to see if they find more similarities or differences between these situations.  Given the public outcry with Till and Martin, I'd say I'm likely to hear about some similarities; however, there are likely just as many differences available for consideration.

But the real point?  To move kids to analyze, compare, contrast and develop an understanding of the world around them.

I'd say that's gonna be a success.

(Any extra credit projects you've offered that have pushed students beyond the "normal" boundaries of the classroom?  Tell me about them!)

1 comment:

Sheena said...

Great idea! I'm sad I am not there to read their papers.