As my class crossed The Bridge at Khazud-Dum, I used today’s lesson as an opportunity to teach them how to draw conclusions. Drawing conclusions is an essential reading strategy and useful in allowing the reader to combine the clues provided by the author with his/her background knowledge to make independent inferences about the text.
Upon making the sad realization that their beloved Balin from The Hobbit was dead, my students wanted answers as to the particulars of his death. I explained to them that the Fellowship felt the same way and that they are also only provided with a few clues to draw their own conclusions about the final fate of Balin and the other dwarves. I told them that making conclusions is essentially like being a reading detective. The author provides us with clues, which we are expected in turn, to piece together to solve the mystery.
After reading a few pages into the chapter, I suggested that we make a list on the board of all of the clues that Tolkien gives us about the final moments in Balin’s life. My students noted that the tomb found in Moria with the rune inscription “Balin Son of Fundin Lord of Moria” was a definite clue. The bones also serve as evidence, although my students were suspicious of their authenticity and that of the runes. The broken swords and axe-heads indicated to them that there must have been a struggle. The destroyed armor, shields, and helms also supported that. As they read further, the specific details of the types of weapons found (orc-scimitars) shed light on who the attackers in the invasion might have been. When they read of the plundered treasure chests, it reminded them of the dwarves’ fierce protection of their gold from The Hobbit and provided them with a motive for the murder.
Once my students had gathered some ideas from the physical evidence Tolkien provided, they were able to use additional clues from Balin’s written account, in the same way that Gandalf is able to do in the text, to explain his demise. As we read, “Balin Lord of Moria fell in Dimrill Dale”, the students struggled to understand what ‘has fallen’ meant. They were interpreting “fell” literally and thinking there were a lot of clumsy characters in this chapter that seemed to be falling all the time. I explained to them that ‘has fallen’ is another way to say someone has died.
My students concluded that the dwarves must have suffered extensively. This led us to an interesting class discussion on whether suffering before death would be preferable to dying quickly. I voiced that I would prefer to perish quickly while Gloin brought up an interesting point by saying, “no matter what the odds, if I had any chance of escaping, I would take it even if that meant I had to suffer.”
As Tolkien intended, my students were able to conclude that Balin and the other dwarves were killed by orcs, they tried to hold off their attackers as long as possible, experienced much fear up until the moment of death, and their protected treasures were plundered by the orcs. They greatly enjoyed the intensity of this chapter and made an impromptu game of reading Tolkien’s onomatopoeia. Everytime they encountered “Doom, Doom” or “Doom, Boom” in the text, to imitate the resounding drumming in the mines of Moria, they all shouted the words in unison and banged on the table. This may have been inspired by their recent percussion experience with percussive storyteller, Cory Hills (http://splatboombang.com), but it quickly evolved into me being their conductor and cueing their musical entrances and cut-offs as we read. They also enjoyed reading, “You Shall Not Pass” and shouted it at the top of their lungs, in homage to Ian McKellen’s performance as Gandalf.
For once, I am grateful at the impact that standardized-testing is having upon my class schedule. Due to a shift in instructional times their classroom teachers wanted to make, my dwarves are being forcibly split up. Normally I have both my fifth and sixth-grade students in my classroom at the same time, however this new adjustment will require them to come at two different class periods, resulting in an hour of instructional time for each grade-level. While at first we were disappointed in this new change that started today, Gloin and I simultaneously realized this means we can cover twice the amount of material with two separate groups reading for two hours a day. Though we have not reached the chapter yet, this situation mirrors what the book characters experience in The Breaking of the Fellowship. As the Fellowship was separated into different factions, my students must now read separately in smaller groups and summarize for one another to literally keep everyone on the same page. They are utilizing teamwork to their advantage and realizing how it will aid and allow for the completion of our mission in a more efficient way.
Already seeing the benefits of this new system, my fifth-graders left at the completion of Khazad-Dum as my sixth-graders were walking in the door to pick up the next chapter, Lothlorien. While these students did not focus on drawing conclusions, they provided me with their own insightful responses today. Dwalin asked if he could reread “there lies the Mirrormere, deep Kheled-Zaram, said Gimli sadly.” Dwalin felt he had not properly read that sentence with sufficient sadness and wanted another chance to read it again. Dwalin‘s reading skills have greatly improved under Tolkien’s tutelage. I have noticed that he is much more detail-oriented now and has learned to value accuracy over speed when reading. I detected a change in his phonology when he read “Kheled-Zaram”, which he spoke as if he was reading his native Arabic. He noticed it, too, and said that word was easy for him to pronounce as it sounds very much like Arabic. He also connected what he was reading to his geography studies when he commented that the description of the lowlands of the Dwarf-Kingdom reminded him of his study of the interior lowlands of the United States. All of this group enjoyed reading Legolas’ rich descriptions of the golden leaves of Lothlorien and Bilbo suggested, “If Smaug were still alive, I bet he would want all of their golden leaves.”
Spurred on by my students’ enthusiastic response to this new schedule change, I am more optimistic than ever that my students can reach their goal. If we are able to read at least two chapters a day on average and reach Two Towers by the end of this week, I am certain we can complete our mission in the remaining five and a half weeks of the school year. Just in case, my students have come up with a contingency plan to meet up informally over the summer to ensure we finish the book one way or another. As a teacher, I realize the real mission is to get students to love reading so much that they will continue to read over the summer. I think I can safely say, “mission accomplished!”