American Literature: American Voices Class Forum

Class Description
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Class Description

American Literature: American Voices

America’s multitude of voices will be our focus. Critical analysis, inclusive & engaging discussions, writing & creative projects will guide us through American novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction.         








Week 1

What does it mean to be American?

Our main target this first week was Essential Questions.  We had a terrific list elaborating on the nature of Essential Questions and exploring one to begin our study of American Lit. EQ are deep, meaningful questions that are echoed in the broad themes and ideas in books.  EQ invite collaboration, defy easy answers and promote self understanding.  Most importantly, they make us think and help us create better questions.  Later in this post, we will return to the question of the day or perhaps the year.


Since building community is critical in my classes (and life), we started with an icebreaker, sharing interests to find similarities and honor differences. Community building work will be a regular part of this course.

We reviewed American Literary periods with a particularly good handout and noted which authors we will hear from.  While the list missed out on Beat poets, Magic Realism and Multi-cultural perspectives, we will be sure to address all of those in this class throughout the year.


Our Essential Question (EQ) today: What is an American?  

Initially, we created one piece of an on-going portrait of America.  Creative projects reveal ideas, not easily expressed in mere words.  Our project of defining America and what is American will continue through the year. I'm looking forward to the final outcome of our project.


As we examined Ruben Naravette's essay, looking for his answer our EQ, we followed up in a dicussion with his evidence, his tone and our responses.  Everyone contributed! Noted was a strong reaction of "not fair" because Navarette's standard includes making a country a better place and because he spoke of the "luck of the womb" and "silver platter" citizenship.  Nevertheless, this was Navarette's perspective, and given we will be reading the many voices of America, I encouraged scholars to dig into that uncomfortable place that leans toward denying someone his say.  We addressed his main point that his grandfather who had certain characteristics exemplified America.  We'll continue to explore the ideals of America.


Speaking of many voices, students voted on the novels: The Crucible; Bless Me, Ultima; Joy Luck Club; Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Bean Trees were the choices.  These will be supplemented by a slew of American short stories, poetry, speeches and essays.


We wrapped up with Shane Koyczan on Canada Koyczan, a spoken poet, recited his poem, "We are More" celebrating Canada at the Olympics.  Please watch the video again and check out the poem itself.  It is meant to inspire you to flesh out your creative expression.


Independently, I'd like scholars to make a creative expression of America. This can be based on the week's reading or your own ideas.  Dig deep.  You have been assigned a reading of an Anna Quindlen essay, "The Quilt of a Country."  A handout was provided to guide annotation (allusions, figurative language, vocabulary) and the margin notes will feed our discussion next Thursday; they are required.  Also for inspiration: a poem by Whitman and Hughes.  Please read and expand on our essential question.  


I look forward to the presentation of the Creative Expression.  Make it yours.  Make it speak of your integrity, your scholarship, your commitment to being a strong voice of America.


Finally, find a copy of the books to add to your library.  We will start reading Bless Me, Ultima  by the end of this month. 





Week 2

What are the “American” stories?

Before we answered our essential question of the day, we created a new box to add to our collection of boxes about America, based on the readings.  I'll include some photos soon.


Then we brainstormed our list of American stories that started with the Founding Fathers, Paul Revere and the like to the Civil War, slavery and the fights for Civil Rights.  We continued with types of stories: ones of hardship, such as immigrant stories and Great Depression, then we added Pilgrims and Pioneers.  We listed success stories, too, of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Lincoln.  I added in Tall Tales of Paul Bunyan (and I kept thinking of Johnny Appleseed, probably because that's what I often call my husband-- ask me why in class).  Another added in War stories, such as Pearl Harbor.  Someone added in Mark Twain -- we didn't make it to other writers, but we will -- and finally. someone added Native Americans. America, the United States not the continent, has its share of stories.


As we contemplated the similarities of our nation's stories, we returned to Quindlen's article. As we shared our vocabulary definitions, identified allusions, spotted metaphorical language and noted the support examples in her article, we grappled with whether she had a positive view of this quilt of a country and what values she assigns to Americans.  We compared this to the two poems, one by Langston Hughes of the Harlem Renaissance and the other by Whitman written around the time of the Civil War, both speaking on the same metaphor of singing.  What did/do Americans sing of?  Whose voice is heard?  


If you need a refresher on annotating a text, please check this video out. Her sample annotation is here.


Our independent work will help us continue the discussion of what unites us as Americans.

Read: Paine excerpt, Susan B. Anthony (with a dash of Jefferson), and Sojourner Truth.  

Write an informal journal response to the readings.  If you prefer a specific task to focus on: based on our readings including those you have for this week and what you see in daily life, what are the essential elements that Americans sing for, write about, live for, strive for, and praise?

Create: Mission/Vision America.  5-10 ideals/values shared by all Americans.


On Thursday next we will journal responses.  Here's a sneak peek:


Week 3

How have our stories shaped us?

We shared our values and ideals, noting the overlap of "we hold to be true."

Then we examined the texts we read as “Historic artifacts” giving us more of the American perspective.  What did Paine, Anthony, and Truth add to our understanding of what Americans place importance?  

We investigated a bit of the historical context of the authors above, noting how each may carry the times they lived in. Paine, for example, lived in our Revolutionary era, so his tone will reflect the urgency of the period. While Truth may have felt a different type of urgency, her speech carries a tone that is not as expectant and demanding. We are familiar with Susan B. Anthony as the face on a dollar coin, but we may not know her full story or the years of struggle of the suffragists. Though she is certainly the most familiar name of suffrage, many others fought for the right to vote.  Check out the video for critical stories of this time of change in America.

Fun fact:  She believed riding bicycles were a good way to fight the patriarchy and emancipate women.  (see: Mental Floss "10 Trail Blazing Facts About Susan B. Anthony")

We began creating a presentation of these values (if not done already) on google slides and added in a supporting quote from each of the documents/historic artifacts.   We also took some time to journal on the texts and their meaning.  Though questions were provided, students were encouraged to write as needed to review the document, consider the questions raised, and learn more about their own reaction to the implied values of the text.


Assigned reading and annotating

  • Irving: “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
  • Hawthorne: “Young Goodman Brown”
  • Momaday: “ Man Made of Words 
Journal (idea starters): 
What more can we about what Americans consider important? What are the inherent conflicts in and between the texts? Given that Europeans gobbled up American stories (such as Irving's) to glimpse at American life, what might such a reader find interesting, notable, amusing?   To what aspects in the stories might modern Americans relate?

What questions do these stories raise for you? If these men sat down at a table, what might they agree or disagree upon?  --- These questions are not to be answered in Q/A format nor are they to be restrictive.  
If you need other questions to explore, please ask.
Week 4

What is our relationship with the natural world?

Rough notes ahead, more info to be posted asap:

Create another BOX based on Irving, Hawthorne and Momaday.

Every time I think of Irving's Sleep Hollow, I want to look at the work of Albert Bierstadt, from the Hudson River School of Art.  

Bio info on Irving

Quiz on Irving's story

Noted places of foreshadowing, setting, characterization -- related to theme

1790s yellow fever epidemics

Terrific discussion on similarities and questions raised by the reading.  


Independent work:

What do we need to know to better understand Anaya’s message?  Each of you have a piece of introductory info to the novel -- biographical info, Spanish language info, symbolism found in the novel and the setting in which the novel takes place.  Read your share and be prepared to introduce the info to your classmates.  

Also read and annotate the poem, "Curandera" by Pat Mora.  Finally, read and mark passages in the novel up to the end of chapter nine.  





Week 5

What stands out in this American story?

How can a story with a curandera who has an owl feel American to us? How can a novel filled with words and phrases that need translation be considered American?

After we created a box on the context hand-out last week, we shared what we had learned. Reminder: if you cannot find a handout, need help with homework or have questions, ask!  

We discussed journals, the possible topics, and where to move them, so we can review them. Please keep up with the journal writing and the goal of 600 words each week.

Besides reviewing the contexts of the New Mexican landscape, the background of New Mexican Catholicism, the language of the Southwest, and the biography of/interview with Rudolfo Anaya, we also investigated the concept of culture and cultural transformation, exploring associated words: assimilation, transculturation, syncretism and misappropriation.  Each term represents a path of culture exchange and whether we take, receive, give or oppress one another.

We quickly moved into a discussion of Pat Mora's poem, "Curandera," each identifying a line that stood out to us. Literary devices were noted as well as the magic of the poem: namely the way Mora reveals how the healer and the desert are interdependent and even intertwined, up to the final breath of the poem.  When we returned from break, we put pencil to paper to write a response to these lines. 

While time rushed on, we had but a few moments to share some thoughts, concerns, ideas and epiphanies we had while reading Anaya's novel.  Our revelations of the main character's life --Antonio-- revealed not only what we have in common with him but also where we might dive deeper to understand in our reading and examination of the novel. 


What to do to prepare for our next meeting:

If I'm not mistaken, we are reading to the end of chapter Quince (15)   

Journal: Any of the concerns, ideas, thoughts raised in our short discussion is fair game for your journal.  Obviously, the literary elements of character development, suspense/foreshadowing, setting and their relationship to the theme of the novel is an option.  You can also (hint, hint) explore the question of identity, the relationship of the characters to the natural world, and above all, the CONFLICTS that Antonio faces and Anaya manifests in his novel.  Be sure your journal's entries represent the three parts we will be reading (up to chp 10, up to chp 15 and the final section)

Aim for 600 words   






Week 6

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Notes will be added within 48-hours after class. If not, please send an email to Admin@HomeroomEducation.com to request this Forum be updated. 

Week 7

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Week 8

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Week 9

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Week 10

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Week 11

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Week 12

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Notes will be added within 48-hours after class. If not, please send an email to Admin@HomeroomEducation.com to request this Forum be updated.