Writing Memoirs in 8th Grade

  • Learning
Jordan Kravitz, Upper Division English

This November, the Avenues 8th grade saw Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway production of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger, at the Shubert Theater on Broadway. Last year, as 7th-graders, these students read To Kill a Mockingbird and saw Horton Foote’s film adaptation of the novel, starring Gregory Peck. They particularly discussed how the novel and film showcased last year’s 7th-grade theme: the tension between the individual and society. So the field trip was meant to provide students with an opportunity to see and discuss the novel’s first-ever theater adaptation. And it was also meant to help Avenues’ 8th grade bridge the English coursework they’ve tackled over the years.  

Seeing To Kill a Mockingbird
Seeing To Kill a Mockingbird

After all, Avenues 8th-grade English revolves around America: the One and the Many. And these students recently concluded a memoir-writing unit.  They were charged with dramatizing a particular moment from their younger lives and, from their privileged perspectives as 13- and 14-year-olds, analyzing how that moment looked and felt different to them today.  This conforms exactly to Harper Lee’s narrative technique in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, a work of fiction largely based on Lee’s life. As an older woman, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the novel’s narrator, reflects on her girlhood, in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama. Scout dramatizes particular incidents from her younger years, particularly her run-ins with one of her neighbors, Arthur “Boo” Radley, and her father’s defense trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of a heinous crime because of the color of his skin. Scout makes us, her readers, see and smell and feel and hear and taste the world as it manifested itself to her as a girl. And from her enlightened perspective, as a woman in middle- to late-age, Scout comments on her younger self and assesses how her feelings and thoughts have changed. 

Avenues 8th-grade English teachers discussed with students the strengths and limitations of Sorkin’s production, particularly in its rendering of the two Scouts; its nuanced portrayal of Atticus Finch, Scout's father, and Calpurnia, the Finch family's longtime maid; its narrative structure; and its reverberations with current affairs in the United States. We look forward to more fun field trips and speakers for Avenues 8th-grade students during upcoming units about character, theme and author’s craft in J.D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye and investigative journalism.

As part of the same unit, these students created “Humuments,” shown below, which will be collected alongside memoirs in a publication at unit’s end. Humuments are artworks that focus on the relationship between words and images. Humument makers take a text – in this case, David Sedaris’ memoir A Plague of Tics, which students studied in English class – and, in painting partially over it, remake that text so only some of its words remain revealed. Humuments, in other words, are adaptations.

Humuments

 

Humument

 

A Humument is a form of adaptation.

 

  • 8th Grade
  • Drama
  • English
  • Literature
  • Middle Grades Program
  • Upper Division