1st + 1st = 2nd

Posted on January 31, 2011Filed Under Stories of Seventh Grade | Leave a Comment

Currently: We have thrown in the towel on the faculty meeting, and are now back to doing what we do best; that is, observing the junior high animal in its natural habitat.

Watch with me…

The very first “literary term” I work on every year is point-of-view. It is such an integral part of  why The Outsiders connects so well with them, that it’s the first thing we talk about. Why is the first person narrator so much more interesting? What can’t he know/tell us? How reliable are his opinions? Etc. We talk about how second-person is reserved for “choose your own adventure” books and instruction manuals, and how third person narrators can let us into every character’s head.

We work it all the time. And, no matter what No Child Left Behind says, not every kid is gonna get it. No matter what you do, some of them just don’t have the horsepower sometimes.

Every year about this time, I keep putting the same question at the end of every test. “___________ is written in… a) 1st person  b) 2nd person  c) 3rd person  d) 4th person.” I fill in the blank with whatever book/story we’re reading. After doing this about a dozen times over the course of the year so far, I finally bust a move on them. In teacher school they called it raising their level of anxiety.

“OK. This week marks the 12the time (I think) that you guys have seen question #40. It’s been about The Outsiders and Midwife’s Apprentice and now it’s about The Giver… again. If you manage to get #40 wrong this time, you will have detention at break all week next week.”

“What?”

“I believe I said…”

“We know. But you can’t do that!”

“Ummm. You forget. This isn’t a democracy. I get to do whatever I want. It’s easy to avoid. Just don’t get it wrong.”

“What if I click it in wrong?”

“That’s why you also circle it on the test. So we can check.”

“But what if I circle it wrong too?”

(Commence rubbing temples.)

“Bummer for you.”

SO…

We’re going over the test, and we get to the last question, and when I confirm that The Giver is indeed written in 3rd person, a tremendous shout goes up from 90% of the class. But there are still at least three in each class who are duly serving time this week. There’s even one who fell for “4th person.”

But in my one eighth grade class, we have a twist. Their #40 is about The Pigman. If you don’t know from The Pigman, I’ll talk more of it soon, but the point is that it is written in first-person, with alternating chapters written by the male and female protagonists; he writes one, she writes one, etc.

Theoretically this class should all get it right by now. You know, eighth grade? Second time through? Should sort of be getting this by now?

Again, about 90%. But there’s this one guy…

“I WAS gonna put first-person…”

“I guess you should have gone with your first thought. Like we always talk about. I’m sorry.”

“But then I started thinking…”

“Usually I would say that’s a good thing…”

“Since every other chapter is by a different person, you know back and forth… I was thinking that might be technically…SECOND person…because, you know, there’s a second person telling the story too…you know?”

Laughter all around. I believe about all I could muster was a weary shake of the head. Then he tries another approach.

“Well…first-person plus first-person could be second-person…”

Even the other clowns who got it wrong are dying at that one.

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