Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A New Perspective


There might be a lot to tackle in one lesson, but let's give it a shot.

If you can, find a picture of a traffic accident, preferably a basic fender bender that depicts a police officer. If you can't find one that works for you, set the stage with your words. Ask students about the different perceptions of the accident (and my sophomores who are just starting to drive usually have strong opinions about driving and other people on the road!). Who is at fault? What do you think Blue SUV driver would say happened? What would red sedan driver say? Let's pretend the policeman was across the street and saw what happened - what might HIS perspective be? What about someone in an apartment building, looking down at the street?

If it works for your classroom: act it out! Have someone stand on a desk/table to be the guy in the apartment building, let a few kids mime the drivers, have another stand off to the side as the policeman (giving someone a ticket? grabbing coffee?). This might help some of the kinesthetic learners. It might also help encourage students to create a dichotomy between the drivers; it seems there's usually there are some disagreements over whose fault it is.

Angle, attitude, and personal knowledge all factor into a perspective. The police man's explanation of what happened would be very specific and legal, because that is his personal background. The two drivers will probably have different opinions on whose fault it is. The joe-schmo in the apartment building saw things from above and since they were observing more of the whole picture, s/he may have even seen something else outside of the two cars that influenced the accident. Once you can differentiate between the different attitudes, see if students can translate this accident into literary perspectives. Who might be first person? Third person limited? Third person omniscient?

Application
You knew this was coming, right? Break 'em into groups or let them do this independently. Assign groups/individuals a certain perspective: write a short paragraph telling the story of this accident in first person, third person ltd, third person omniscient, or (if you're brave) second person. Break down the first person into first person SUV driver, first person cop, first person sedan driver. Give them just a few minutes to write (3-5) and then...read aloud!

When you get to the first person perspectives, take a moment to talk about unreliable narrators. At this point, you'll be able to talk about the potential "believability" problems with perspective. Could both drivers experience the same event and tell it differently? What motivation might they have for telling the story the way they do? Remind students to think about a fight they've had with a sibling. When retelling the event to a parent, did your story (or your sibling's story) reflect the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of the event? Was there some disagreement over who started it? Why is that?

Remind them that characters in a novel - even our narrator - can be the same way. We have to be careful to evaluate the reliability of the narrator. What motivation would s/he have to hide or avoid the whole truth? You could pull out a short excerpt here from an unreliable narrator if you want to focus on that more. Or you could leave it at that, let it simmer, and return to it later.

Synthesis
OK, so you've talked about perspective, even hit upon unreliable narrators, now what? Harris Burdick, welcome back. Select one of the pictures (or let class choose), and break students into groups (if they aren't already). Actually, at this point, I would do the opposite of whatever I did with Application - if they were independent before, break into groups; if they were in groups before, go back to independent writing. Assign each group/individual a certain perspective and ask that they write a story about that picture using that assigned perspective. Give them time to write...and then read aloud! See if the class can determine which perspective it was, identifying aspects of the narration that told them so.

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