Interpreting the Text

Designed to increase students’ confidence and sophistication as readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers, English 4 focuses of texts whose characters or structure challenge convention and ask students to challenge their notions about what a literary analysis, a sentence, or a topic of academic discussion should be. Bill Martino’s Form 4 honors class finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, which beautifully renders the experience of first and second generation Indians and their struggles with love, marriage, loss, grief, and physical or spiritual dislocation in the U.S..

Each person or group in the class contributed a thoughtful and inventive presentation of their “interpretation” of the various short stories. Martino said, “In English, we pay so much emphasis on writing and structure, as we should, but with this assignment, I wanted to reach another part of the students’ brains that are more creative and collaborative. This project was a great way for the students to get into the text, find nuances, identifying those details and their function in the story. In this way, we can reach different learning styles.”

There were few limitations on the assignment. By granting the students this autonomy, their ideas were fresh and modern, in many cases, utilizing the technology and social media that are native to them. One student’s presentation of “Interpreter of Maladies” involved an interview style question and answer with the “answer” a lyric from a sound clip of an actual song. For “The Blessed House,” the students created an Instagram account for the two characters in the story. The students then performed in mini vlogs on each of the postings, complete with comments, hashtags, and locations that refer to elements of the story. Two students created a YouTube movie where the dissolution of the characters’ marriage and all its accompanying tension is played out in front of the camera. One student wrote a very meta beautiful short story, a portrayal of the ten-year-old Lilia’s perspective from “When Mr. Prizada Came to Dinner." 

Each project displayed the students’ deep understanding of the text. Martino was impressed with the level of maturity and work of his class and said that the students’ contributions help him look at the readings in a new, thought-provoking way, too. He said, “ I loved how they used social media to get the point across. They put a spin on the project to make the work relevant to them. That’s pretty incredible.”
Click here to view some of the presentations.
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