Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reading To Kill A Mockingbird - A Writing Journal

When my English class headed off to the library to check out To Kill A Mockingbird, I wasn't sure whether to smile or frown; my face remained neutral. This book has such an impressive reputation. Millions love it. Everyone's read it. It is, as Mrs. M says, the right of passage through the American education system. It is the beloved favorite of Oprah, my English teachers, and my mom. My older brother even likes it and he isn't much of a reader. I'd thought of reading it on my own before the school year since, let's be honest, reading something for school does take a bit of the fun out of it. But alas, I'd had other books to read and less time than I'd thought. 

Holding the hardcover in my hands, it didn't seem so high and mighty. There weren't shock waves that burst through me when I held it, not that I expected there to be. It seemed almost too normal. It was just like any other book I'd read, bound with a spine with words on pages. Could anything be as amazing as this was hyped to be?

I'll admit, starting off, I wasn't thrilled. The beginning was slow as most classics are. It didn't help that the audio book took 45 minutes for each chapter. However, I knew the plot would improve as we approached the trial and that's where the heart and sole of the story was.

It wasn't until we started having these class discussions that I started to enjoy the story. I'm not sure how it started or why we as a particular group were so good at it, but our discussions were... amazing. I'm not just saying that. We'd make real world connections and genuinely listen to each other. Mrs. M would write quotes of some of the students on the white board with such phrases as "morality isn't the law" and "sometimes your eyes can make you blind". Mrs. M also wrote my quote on the board which read: "people are not as they seem or how you perceive them to be."

One great point was made after another and it was the first time I remember having a real enriching discussion over a book. The most encouraging part was that the students were the ones carrying on the conversation. Yes, Mrs. M gave us things to think about and questions to ponder, but the connections to themes, life lessons, other characters, jokes, and other bodies of work were all coming from us. The level of excellence of the conversation didn't make me shy away, but encouraged me to add further. I loved watching Mrs. M after an amazing comment. She'd stand, listening, processing, then her lips would curve up into a slight smile, restraining herself. She would then usually move back, grinning even more, not able to contain her excitement.

I loved when Mrs. M reacted to my comments. One time she set down her book and said, "I should just leave, you can teach yourselves." This made our class laugh but I think there's some truth to it. With this book it's so easy to take away so much. What you take away from a book is all your own. Each person will pick up different things, which is why many people get frustrated, especially when it comes to symbolism. For example, Mrs. M was discussing the snowman that Jem and Scout build on their day off from school. I'd thought the biggest significance of the scene would be illustrating Scout's innocence. However, Mrs. M brings out this whole analogy about how the dirt and the snow of the snowman represented the race issue. She also brought to light the fact that the snowman wore Mrs. Maudie's hat and looked like Mr. Avery, relating to the gender issue. Most of my classmates looked confused, their heads tilted to the side. One of my friends even raised up his hands in refusal: "No. It's a snowman. A freakin' snowman. No."

While it's easy to take that attitude I sat back in wonder. I'd never have thought of it that way. Most of the things in the novel had been challenged and changed in my mind due to the thoughts of others. Just because they took that away, different from my view, doesn't make it wrong. That friend was just as "right" as Mrs. M was.

This book was the perfect springboard for these discussions and lessons, since you can't leave without learning something. You dig in without even realizing it. For these reasons I'm glad I didn't read it by myself. Yes, I'm sure I would've enjoyed it. However, I would not have received this fantastic and thought-provoking experience. I feel even more grateful knowing how hard it can be to get students talking about a novel. I'll cherish this experience and remember it every time I pick up To Kill a Mockingbird

For I'm sure I'll read it many a time in the future.

Read To Kill A Mockingbird? Going to read it soon? What did you think of it? Have any classroom memories? Leave them below!

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