Blog #2 for not going to Boston: Hester Prynne ain’t so bad

Classic novels: you either love them or hate them. This blog was inspired by an article published in the NCTE journal, volume 101, No. 2, November 2011. The article is titled “Making the Classics Matter to Students through Digital Literacies and Essential Questions” by Jonathan Ostenson and Elizabeth Gleason-Sutton.

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Sometimes just the words “classic novel” make people cringe a little. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear those words? For me, I think of the God-awful, dreaded, horrible “Scarlet Letter.” I don’t like that book. Not because a high school teacher ruined it for me but because it’s just terrible, haha! Can I get an amen, Dr. Ellington?!

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I don’t mean to toot my own horn, BUT TOO TOOT!! What Jonathan and Elizabeth talk about in their article is something I have already thought of doing in my classroom. Let me fill you in: Jonathan and Elizabeth talk about the importance of making a connection between classic literature to “today.”  In other words, make reading about Hester Prynne relevant to your students.

The authors of this article discuss how this can be done via digital literacy (multimedia project and such) and essential questions (questions that are related to their lives today). The best example they give is with the God-awful, dreaded, horrible “Scarlet Letter.” They begin by asking their students, what is worth risking everything for? Would you risk everything for a chance to own  a mountain made of chocolate? Would you risk everything for the chance to kiss Ryan Gosling? (The correct answer is yes. That man is too perfect.) They can then relate to the risks taken in the novel. What will they risk in order for “Hester to keep the right to raise Pearl and to keep her lover’s identity a secret, Dimmesdale to maintain his revered social position, and Chillingworth to pursue knowledge and revenge” (38). By asking an essential (and thought-provoking and difficult to answer) question, students become more enthusiastic in what they are reading because they are now interested and mentally invested in what the characters will risk.

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A way to incorporate digital literacy into this ongoing example of the “Scarlet Letter” is by having the students do some research. Research the Puritans, why were they called the Puritans? Is there a connection between the meaning of their name to the way in which Hester is being ostracized? Or research songs/lyrics that can describe Hester’s emotions. How do they connect? (An example they give is “Addicted” by Kelly Clarkson to describe Chillingworth’s motivations.)

Even though I already planned on incorporating outside information in order to make classics more appealing and relevant to my students’ lives, this article provided many good examples and demonstrations of how to do so effectively. I highly recommend it.

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I actually do believe that the book is called “The Scarlet Letter” and I have been referring to it as just “Scarlet Letter.” But quite frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn. (10 extra credit points if you can name that movie!)

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