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Everyday Ethics: the Finer Points of Ethical Decision Making in Button, Button by Richard Matheson Lesson Design by Jordan Kuszak, Ali Larson, and Brett Sales
March 15th, 2012

Grade Level: 8
Time Frame: Four 50-minute Classes

Essential questions:

1) How can we use a text to get students to actively consider the weight of the decisions they make? 2) How will students’ analysis of the ethically charged decisions of characters in a text spur a critical consideration of the decision-making process at work in their own lives and how can this interaction most effectively be expressed in an original way? 3) What is the benefit of teaching grammar in the context of a free-form creative piece of writing?

Rationale:

One of our goals as educators is to help our students come to a better understanding of how to use the English language. Instrumental in this is leading students to actively engage in literary analysis and thoughtful composition. Our job as educators extends far beyond literary analysis and composition in the classroom, however. We have to make every effort to ensure that what we’re teaching in some way connects to students’ interaction with the wider world. In the context of this particular lesson, we will be using literary analysis of Button, Button, by Richard Matheson, to give students a space in which to think critically, creatively, and ethically about their own experiences with ethical decision making in the world and then communicate those experiences in their own writing. Because students in middle school are soon going to be entering a phase in their lives where an empathetic understanding of the world will require the fair consideration of multiple perspectives, the primary competency at work here will be ethical thinking. In regards to ethical thinking, Lipman says “education is not the extraction of a reasonable adult out of a reasonable child, but a development of the child’s impulses to be reasonable” (Lipman 263). We know our students will be naturally inclined to want to make reasonable decisions, and we believe our lesson will start them on the path to thinking about what exactly should go into making those decisions.

Objectives:

1) Students will learn to actively “read” social texts for comprehension and analysis. As part of this analysis students will also be expected to draw and justify conclusions about the ethics of decision-making according to context. a) Students will work collaboratively in small groups to uncover meaning in the texts they’re analyzing. b) In small and large group discussion students will be asked to communicate their interpretations of the text, using supporting evidence from the text and their own experiences to back up their reasoning.

2) Students will compare and contrast the moral situations described in multiple social texts, understanding what circumstances may play into a certain decision.

3) Students will be able to understand the concept of a narrative arc and apply it to their comprehension of the text and their own narrative. a) Comprehension of the narrative arc concept will include an understanding of the terms exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution and the ability to identify them at work in a piece of writing.

4) Students will be able to write to exemplify understanding of the three competencies of thinking. a) Students will recreate a scene using dialogue and other storytelling techniques to tell an original story. b) Students will fully consider the ethical implications of their experience and write to accurately portray them. c) Students will have to critically consider their prior knowledge and experience in the terms newly defined by class discussion regarding ethical decision-making and literary analysis.

Context:

Ideally, we would be teaching this lesson as the beginning of a unit centered on choices—namely, how the choices we make are influenced by...
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