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Have you read/seen To Kill a Mockingbird?

My eighth graders are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Right after Thanksgiving I will lead a two-week media unit that includes showing the movie version with Gregory Peck. I have too many ideas, and I want to pare them down. If you have time to help me by responding to some of these questions, I'd really appreciate it!

- As an adult, what do you wish you had learned about watching movies/television when you were in school?

- Have you read the novel To Kill a Mockingbird? How old were you when you first read it? What did you think of it?

- Have you seen the movie To Kill a Mockingbird? When was the first time you saw it? What did you think of it?

- Have you seen the parody animated short How to Kill a Mockingbird? If so, what do you think of it?

- What do you think is important for a middle school student to learn in a media unit that needs to incorporate the classic film version of To Kill a Mockingbird? Of the following, which do you think is most important (please write your own if it's not here):
1. To become more thoughtful consumers of popular media in general.
2. To acquire the specific vocabulary and skills that enable students to analyze films.
3. To use moving image media as texts to practice reading and writing skills.
4. To engage deeply with a specific movie, because such skills are transferable to multiple kinds of texts.
5. To be exposed to a broad range of media that offer different perspectives surrounding the main text.
6. To be a fun experience, because pleasure will make everything else more memorable.
7. To reflect on the students' own values and personal history with media consumption.

Argh! Why can't I just have it all?

Well, I can go to sleep. Yes I can.

Good night!



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( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
zanthinegirl
Nov. 11th, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
We did something similar with To Kill A Mockingbird at about the same age (though it might have been 9th grade; can't swear to it 25 years later!). It was the first time I'd read the book, and we followed it with the movie too. I've reread it a couple of time since then; once in college, and again last spring.

Speaking for 8th-grade me: it was far and away one of the best books we read that year. It was compelling, and it was grown up in a way that most of the books we read in middle school weren't. It dealt with important issues and it was one of the few middle school books that I had to really think about, you know? It was beautifully written, though I'm not sure how much of that I appreciated as an 8th grader! It also gave a real sense of it's setting.

I have seen the movie with Gregory Peck, though not since 8th grade. I remember liking it, though much preferring the book. I really need to rent it don't I? I suspect I'd see very different things as an adult!

I wish I'd understood more about the social setting before reading and/ or watching To Kill a Mockingbird. Though I wonder in retrospect if my teacher did that on purpose so the racial issues would have more impact?
framefolly
Nov. 12th, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your experience so thoughtfully! It's very helpful to me, especially these parts:

"...it was far and away one of the best books we read that year. It was compelling, and it was grown up in a way that most of the books we read in middle school weren't. It dealt with important issues and it was one of the few middle school books that I had to really think about, you know? It was beautifully written, though I'm not sure how much of that I appreciated as an 8th grader! It also gave a real sense of it's setting."

and

"I wish I'd understood more about the social setting before reading and/ or watching To Kill a Mockingbird. Though I wonder in retrospect if my teacher did that on purpose so the racial issues would have more impact?"

Would you mind if I shared this with my students? I might not have time to do so, but I like having some extra "treats" in my pocket just in case the class needs it :) .
zanthinegirl
Nov. 12th, 2012 06:32 pm (UTC)
Help yourself! Always happy to contribute to teaching a great book/ movie.

Your post inspired me to track down the movie BTW. I watched it last night. I don't think I'd seen it since middle school; it really is amazing. I still think the book's better but it's a close thing :D
slaymesoftly
Nov. 11th, 2012 01:13 pm (UTC)
Wow - when I was a kid (especially given that we lived overseas for over 5 years) there wasn't much TV. I don't know that I learned anything - other than, for a while, that you hear about news events and actually (sometimes) see them happen. Movies were for entertainment and you watched them in the movie theater with everyone else.

Having said that, I read TKaM when I was in high school. Don't recall what year - whichever one in which you usually study American Literature, I imagine. I thought it was very good - although at that point in my life, I probably would not have read it on my own. A few years later, yes. And I did reread it as an adult, and still thought it was good, although perhaps didn't identify with Scout quite so easily.

Yes, definitely saw the movie. Don't know when. Presumably when it first came out as there were no dvds back in the day. :) Thought it was excellent and really did the book justice (which isn't all that common). I think there may have been a few things I understood better after seeing the movie, but I can't tell you now what they were.

Have not seen the animated parody.

And, oh wow - most important? Why can't you have it all? LOL I dunno, I guess, if it's a communications class, to become more thoughtful consumers of popular media in general. Which, IMHO, will require a certain amount of #2, as well as #3 and #4. :)

Edited at 2012-11-11 01:14 pm (UTC)
framefolly
Nov. 12th, 2012 04:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm learning a lot about the traces that school readings leave in people's lives :) . Thank you especially for pointing out what you think it's important -- # 1-4 -- I think so, too :) .

Would you mind if I shared these comments with my students? I might not have time, but I think they could benefit from hearing them:

"I read TKaM when I was in high school...I thought it was very good - although at that point in my life, I probably would not have read it on my own. A few years later, yes. And I did reread it as an adult, and still thought it was good, although perhaps didn't identify with Scout quite so easily.

Yes, definitely saw the movie...Thought it was excellent and really did the book justice (which isn't all that common). I think there may have been a few things I understood better after seeing the movie, but I can't tell you now what they were."
slaymesoftly
Nov. 12th, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC)
Sure, knock yourself out. :) If you want to tell them when it was being taught in high school (in the honors English classes)it would have been very early 60's.
shipperx
Nov. 11th, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
I grew up in the town it was written about. Maycomb= Monroeville. Nell Lee (Harper is her middle name) still lives in town. (Unfortunately in a nursing home. She's close to blind and had a stroke a couple of years ago.) They copied our 'old Courthouse's interior for the movie ('New Courthouse' was built in the 60s). And when I was a kid the kindergarten was what remained of Nell Lee's elementary school. We even still had the huge 100+ year old oak tree out back until it was cut in the 1980s.

The book is fiction. There was no actual case (unfortunately far too many cases like that happened so there is precedent, but there is no specific one incident) but great swathes of the book is readily identifiable as actual places only BARELY renamed. BTW 'Dil' in the book is Truman Capote. He lived virtually next door to her and they were criers up until she got as famous as he did. (Fairly well handled in the movie 'Capote'.)

It's also interesting to read Capote's novella 'A Christmas Memory's as it was written about roughly the same time period and has information and an outside view of Nell and her home situation. (Just as dil/capote is her neighbor in Mockingbird she is his neighbor in 'A Christmas Memory'
shipperx
Nov. 11th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
Oh and my mom still remembers meeting Gregory Peck when he came to town researching the role .
shipperx
Nov. 11th, 2012 05:34 pm (UTC)
'criers' heh. 'friends' and spell check 'fixed' it.

At any rate, I read the book in 7th or 8th grade. I don't remember which and I've seen the movie a few times (plus the town holds the trial in play form almost every year).
enigmaticblues
Nov. 11th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
I remember really enjoying the book, but mostly I wanted to be Atticus. So, it's probably not surprising where I wound up.

The biggest takeaway for me, I think, is that a book (or other media) can say true things without being true itself, if that makes any sense. You should enjoy what you consume, but you shouldn't necessarily turn your brain off, or at least, you shouldn't unthinkingly turn your brain off. And that you can use the true things that something says to search for more information, for more fact, if that's something that interests you.
zandperl
Nov. 11th, 2012 04:46 pm (UTC)
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is the first book I can specifically remember not finishing, and to this day I haven't finished it. (Though it's on my mental to-read list now.) At the time I remember just not liking the writing style, but looking back on it today I think if I had seen how it was relevant to reality I might've been more interested. Because the relevance of the debate over whether to teach evolution in schools wasn't at all evident to me as a schoolkid in NYC in the 1980s. To me then it was a debate that was over and done with.

For the goals, I like #5, be exposed to a broad range of interpretations, and #7, reflect on students' own values and personal history. I think it's important for students to be able to analyze media for themselves and to understand that not everything they see in the news is the absolute truth. The topic of evolution in schools is rich with sources for both sides of the debate, but many NYC kids may have never been exposed to the creationist / Intelligent Design viewpoint, and may not understand that much of the US still disbelieves in evolution and still feels that it shouldn't be taught in schools, or at least should be alongside "alternative theories" (i.e., creationism/ID, not punctuated equilibrium or panspermia).

I think if I were doing a unit on TKaM, I'd start off with the scientific/cultural background of creationism/ID vs. evolution (and being who I am in this I'd talk about epistemology of each group, and what each camp uses as their ultimate authority), then do some current news, then go into the book and film. I'd probably focus on having the students try to get at the motivations behind each person in the news and each reporter, and also each character in the book.
framefolly
Nov. 11th, 2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
Hmm...TKaM is about racial segregation and Jim Crow injustices, among other topics. Creationism v. evolution, however, doesn't come up. I think you might be thinking of the play "Inherit the Wind," which is also set in the South and often assigned in school. I appreciate your comments about relevance, though -- I think students are more likely to "finish the book" if they feel like it has something to do with their lives right now.
zandperl
Nov. 11th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
Hah! I probably didn't finish that one either! :-P I think they both came up for me in late elementary school, I didn't enjoy the writing style of either, they both were about the South, they both were from the perspective of a kid (I think?), and they didn't seem relevant to my life, and that's probably why I've conflated them.

Racism and its origins also didn't feel relevant to me growing up. I was raised to believe that racism was over and done with, a thing that was finally stamped out in my parents' generation. And I believed it too until grad school.
wildrider
Nov. 11th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
I am shamed to admit I still haven't read To Kill A Mockingbird, and only saw the movie a few years ago. This despite the fact I remember when Mom was reading it, I remember it sitting on her nightstand when I was young, and I always read books Mom was reading.

The movie was intense and brilliant and I have no deep thoughts beyond that, other than words that others have said with far more eloquence and style than I could. Gregory Peck was a master of the cool, deep-thinking Atticus, and I understand why so many people make of him a hero.

I WILL read it--as soon as I can afford the Kindle edition. :)
essaying
Nov. 11th, 2012 08:30 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure we read it my freshman year of HS, so I was a year older than your guys. (My HS did something brilliant that I've never heard of another school doing: Freshman English was "Literature of the Adolescent." Mockingbird, Catcher, Member of the Wedding, Red Badge of Courage, Lord of the Flies, Romeo and Juliet et al. I remember enjoying almost all of it.)

Can't remember when I first saw it, but I was well into adulthood. Then I reread and rewatched it when I took an undergraduate screenwriting class in grad school (there was no graduate-level screenwriting class available).

Haven't seen the parody. Should I?

Here are the things I'd want to discuss with eighth graders. I'd want to talk some about the propagandistic/didactic function of literature and film: can a book or a movie change people's minds about something? Should it? At what point does that function begin to interfere with the work's aesthetic purpose?

I'd want to talk about the process of turning a book into a movie. I'd find some scenes and characters in the book that didn't make it onto the screen, and talk about why someone made those choices.

An interesting thing we did in screenwriting was that each of us chose a minor character from the book and did a treatment of that character's story as we imagined it. (Mine - based on one of the younger Ewell kids - eventually turned into a screenplay of the odyssey of two gay teenaged through the Depression-era South; it's actually about a third written, and is pretty good, although I haven't touched it in ages.) Most of the kids seemed to enjoy this exercise and to get something from it; it might be an interesting writing exercise for your guys.

Oh, and, just as an aside: I've been away from LJ for several months and have lost track of your life. It's really good to see you working and posting again. I missed you, if it's not odd to miss someone that you've only met for a couple of hours.
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