After my students’ intense writing experiences over the last week, I decided to give them a break for a few days and only allow them to express themselves verbally. At the students’ suggestion, we decided to hold class outdoors to take advantage of the wonderful weather and experience Tolkien in a different setting. With our Tolkien on-the-go kit (pictured below), we were ready to read.
Sensing a change in setting, my students were puzzled when I did not distribute their steno pads, as usual. I explained to them that today I was going to read the book to them, freeing their minds to just concentrate on listening and spontaneously responding to what they were hearing. I encouraged them to interrupt me frequently with any questions or comments regarding the text. At first, they seemed a bit over-stimulated by the sights and sounds of their new outdoor space, but once they acclimated to the change of scenery, they settled in and began to listen intently.
Reading a book and listening to someone else read a book to you are both valuable literary experiences with independent merits, however they are very different experiences. By taking the pressure off of my students to worry about decoding challenging words and the spelling and grammar involved in writing, their reactions to the book become more immediate without the natural filtering process that occurs with written responses. Their reactions today were raw and as a result, allowed me to be more direct in my instructional guiding process through the text. Encouraging my students to respond orally, instead of in writing, also allowed me to hear from some students that often hesitate to write very much in their steno pads, due to their lack of mastery of English writing conventions.
As we read The Ring Goes South, my students asked what a “ring-bearer” was. I explained to them that usually the term is used in the context of a wedding, but in this case it meant that Frodo had the responsibility of carrying “the ring”. We also noticed that Tolkien must have also been aware of the double entendre as the next written words after “ring-bearer” are “I do.” My students also asked what the word “ere” meant and I reminded Ori, who had performed as one of the Three Witches in some scenes from Macbeth that we studied last year, that he used that word when he said, “that will be ere the set of sun.” “Oh, yeah, I remember now,” he connected.
Oin, who is a dwarf of few words, had several great responses today. He stopped me to say “I think the fellowship is like camping or taking a road trip with lots of lions and trolls because of all the bad guys.” He believed that the fellowship could also be referred to as “nocturnal travelers” at Elrond’s insistence that they only travel under “cover of night.” Oin also expressed concern over the obsession with pipe smoking that many of the inhabitants of Middle-Earth share. When I explained to him that in Tolkien’s time, people were not aware of health risks posed by smoking, he said, “I guess pipe smoking is a hobby for a hobbit.” To illustrate his complete engagement with the text as we read of “the halflings” struggling through the mountainous snow, Oin said, “Ms. Rodgers, when you were reading about the snow I noticed that it suddenly felt really cold outside to me.”
When we read of Bilbo giving his elven chain mail and knife to Frodo, Bofur, another reticent responder said, “it’s like Bilbo is passing it down from one generation to another.” He also said the names of the different mountains and colors of them reminded him of the different wizards in the book and their corresponding colors. Pleased with his responses, I said, “Bofur, you are on fire today!” Then all of the students began singing Alicia Keys’ song Girl on Fire at the top of their lungs, “This girl is on fire!” The silliness continued as Bofur, feeling quite pleased with himself, later sang , “my butt is on fire” as he complained of being too hot from reading on the burning pavement.
Kili, whose guilt seems to be easily aroused in class, leading her to make true confessions to her fellow dwarves, admitted that she “snuck” a clip off of Youtube of Boromir’s death scene from the Fellowship film. Unable to resist watching it in class when we reach that part in the book, she said, “I can’t help it! I love death! I can’t wait to hear about how somebody died.” Her clandestine viewing must have also led her to observe Legolas’ prowess with a bow and arrow as she added, “that Legolas guy is better than Katniss Everdeen!”
Ori came up with his own observations today. “When we were reading The Hobbit, every other word was Bilbo. Now when we read Lord of the Rings, it’s Frodo all the time. That’s because he’s the main character.” Ori also seemed to enjoy the outdoor experience more than the other dwarves. True to hobbit etiquette, he insisted upon sharing his bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with everyone, including me, while we read. I told my band of readers that perhaps as we get closer to summer, we can have more outdoor reading days and make a picnic of it by placing a blanket in the middle of our reading circle and everyone bringing an item to share for free-range snacking while we read. Extremely inspired by his experience today, Ori asked for his steno pad so he could draw a picture for me. He chose to draw a picture of our class reading, with speech bubbles for each member of the class and wrote the following caption, “What an awesome time we had reading outside today. I hope we read outside again soon!”
At the end of class, my students enjoyed teasing me about how much time I’m putting into the blog. We are equal partners in this project and both have the same amount of skin in the game. When asking if I minded working that hard for them, I jokingly said, “Yes, it’s so hard, I’m going to get grey hairs!” Bifur, quick-witted as ever, said “Of course you are! You’re Gandalf the Grey!” We all roared with laughter at his humorous pun as we ended today’s lesson before parting ways for the weekend.
My students and I are in for a real treat this weekend. A local high school is performing a dramatic production of The Hobbit and a small group of them are going to see it with me tomorrow. I relish the opportunity to enjoy Tolkien with them, both inside and outside of the classroom. We hope all of you have a great weekend as we look forward to sharing ours with you on Teaching Tolkien next week!