As I finish my I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings unit, I am reminded of why I teach this beautiful autobiography despite the controversy that always surrounds this title. A small group of parents always object because of the molestation and rape scenes, which in my opinion are artfully written and necessary to her story. Despite offering alternative titles to parents who object, there are still parents who think the material is at best “not appropriate” or at worst “pornographic.”
In the end it is my students who decide how valuable Angelou’s story is to read. They are the barometer by which I judge the success of this unit. They overwhelmingly agree that she is an inspiration. They- more than most adults give them credit for- realize that life is complicated and, at times, hard. They find her reactions to the hardships in her life courageous. My hope is that one day when they are faced with a hardship or problem that feels daunting, overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable that they will remember Angelou’s journey. Remember her fear, her retreat into silence, her displacement, her loneliness and most importantly her subsequent growth and development out of those dark places into the light of her achievements and successes. Through her story, she can provide hope for those students who are struggling to find a reason to continue each day.
This year I felt this unit was even more successful because the online discussions allowed us to delve deeper into events, characters, themes, etc. in the text than ever before. The video clips of Angelou speaking- being interviewed, reciting poetry, discussing life -all helped students to get to know her on a more personal level. They felt more of a connection to her because they could see her and hear her. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most students enjoyed her deep, powerful voice as much as I do.
I have just finished compiling online discussion questions into a packet for teachers who are daring enough to teach this text, despite the controversy. I designed questions for all 36 chapters! I have formatted them to take advantage of the structure and multi-media embed capabilities available through Collaborize Classroom- the free structured online learning tool I use to compliment my class.