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Critical Ways of Seeing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Context

National Endowment for the Humanities

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Note that this resource was reviewed during the Spring 2013 review period. The resource may or may not have been updated since the review. Check with the content creator to see if there is a more recent version available.


This resource was reviewed by OSPI in Spring 2013. Learn more about the review process and the data analysis approach.

Background from OER Project Review Team
EDSITEment is a partnership among the National Endowment for the Humanities, Verizon Foundation, and the National Trust for the Humanities. This unit was not designed to meet the Common Core State Standards. This should factor into the viewer's analysis of the review results.

Publishers' Criteria (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 3 (Strongly Agree). Quality of Text: 1.17, Quality of Questions and Tasks: 1.0, Writing: 1.25.

EQuIP (Learn more)

Not Recommended (1.0)
Chart with scale of 'meets criteria' from 0 (None) to 3 (All). Alignment: 1.0, Key Shifts in the CCSS: 1.0, Instructional Supports: 0.75, Assessment: 1.5.

Achieve OER (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Weak) to 3 (Superior). Explanation: 1.0, Interactivity: 0.75, Exercises: 0.75, Deeper Learning: 1.25.

See standard error chart for the review scoring

Reviewer Comments (Learn more)

Extreme (0.5)

This unit goes too far away from what I think my SPED and remedial students could do or would even want to do. I don’t have an indication that it is an additional unit after the initial study of the text. While I recognize that it is important to see works of literature in cultural and historical context, I feel this unit loses the vitality of the text in the number of degrees of separation from the importance of the text itself as a vibrant cultural icon. The unit references so good historical timelines (although not all the links work). Also, the relevancy of some of the links is not easily apparent without some digging. To me, it seems to go all over the place. It starts very simply with a critique of the text, but I didn’t notice a clear rubric for what is to be achieved in that assignment, then goes to comparing criticism using culture as the lens. It is good to have a number of links to give ideas. But it is not linear enough to be accessible to my students.

If they aren’t already lost, adding the social and historical context would be the end I think.

This unit finishes off with an assessment. The rubric for that is so ponderous it is hardly achievable for anyone, I would think.

Very ambitious but this seems like an extension suitable for AP students and not the principal analysis of a very important work.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Strongly Disagree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

In this unit, students read critics reviews of HF and time lines of events to evaluate the reviews based on society's issues of the time. Students also had to have read HF in order to write their own review using text evidence within their writing. While students are asked to read and evaluate critic’s reviews of HF and read the novel HF, a close examination of the text is implied rather than specifically stated.

Assignment directions for students serve as suggestions and are not clear and explicit. They include suggestions such as "note," "make inferences" and that teachers may use a "similarity and differences chart" if they desire, but all assignments choices are left up to individual teachers; there are no clear directions to bring into classroom. Ideas and suggestions exist, but that is all.

However, there was a strong, detailed handout that was included for teachers to use to help showcase the differences in critical writing versus literary analysis versus a written summary.

No purposeful speaking or listening component was reviewed within this unit (other than they would have to listen to the film that is included in the preparation materials).

Extensions to the lesson exist that can be given to high level students; however, there is no scaffolding in place for lower level students.

Pre-reading activities exist, but they serve more as suggestions instead of being closely, directly aligned.

No clear, set assessment for the unit; the following are suggested as possible assessments/assignments: "You might consider before the unit begins how you want students to provide assessable evidence that they have successfully completed steps four and five. If the unit culminates in an essay, consider developing and distributing a rubric for it as students are finishing their cultural context research or refer to the one provided here. You may also consider whether you want students to perform separate assessments of their inferences about published critics' cultural contexts and their own, or whether these two sets of inferences should be combined in one assessment."

There is, however, a strong, clear rubric that is suggested to be used as a sample rubric (if wanted) if writing an essay is what a teacher decides to do as a final assessment for the unit (again, no clear, set instructions). The rubric contains a grammar/conventions section; however, no grammar/convention lesson exists within the reviewed materials.

Overall, this unit would need moderate work to be classroom ready and Common Core aligned.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Disagree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

This unit focuses on the interaction between a critic’s context and what is seen by the critic as he or she analyzes and critiques a text. The guiding questions for the unit ask, “How does a critic's cultural context help explain his or her opinions about a book?” and “What influences in my cultural context help explain my opinions about a book?” In this complexly layered unit, the student and teacher have access to a rich variety of websites; unfortunately the possibilities are probably too rich in terms of scope and breadth. Many of the texts are found on websites such as Gonzaga University and EDSITEment. Students are directed to large sites housing primary documents, documentary films, literary research, and articles. In terms of balance, there is precious little for the below grade-level reader or ELL student. The lesson plans for this unit are extremely general and assume a great deal on the part of the instructor. The instructor with just a passing knowledge of Twain or his critics, and without a fairly deep knowledge of history, will be burning the midnight oil preparing to teach this unit. Questions asked of the students are extremely difficult and would necessitate spending a great deal of time and scaffolding for the students to have any hope of answering them. The basic wording is also confusing. For example, in Activity 3, the directions for instruction are as follows:

"As students find historical and social markers that may influence critics, it will be beneficial for them to note what did not happen or had not yet happened. This may influence their inferences in the next step. For example, how could the fact that the Civil Rights Movement did not happen until after Booker T. Washington's death explain some aspects of how Washington views Huckleberry Finn?"

The instructional support for teaching students to make the very complex inferences about critics and their contexts suggests:

"Depending on how adept students are at making inferences, some training in that process may be necessary. Consider ways to help students brainstorm lots of possible cause-effect relationships, and then focus their assertions on ones they can provide logic or evidence for. A mini-lesson that may be helpful might include showing students pictures from magazines or family photo albums, and then asking them to guess when the pictures were taken and what evidence they have for their guesses."

Students often struggle with transferring learning from a simple example to a complex task. This unit needs to be re-designed by classroom teachers who could create the possible scaffolding and instruction necessary to approach extremely complex texts and assignments. Assessments are open to the discretion of the teacher. Some rubrics are provided and lean heavily on higher order thinking. However, the rubrics are not aligned to Common Core Standards in any specific way, although the criteria on the rubrics could be adapted. The materials in the unit are rich and the idea of looking at influences on readers as critics is relevant to college readiness. To be user-friendly, the unit needs to link to more specific pages in the resources, provide the connections to the CCSS, add student guides for reading and short writing assignments, and include a great deal more instructional support.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Disagree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

This unit provides a broad outline of writing activities to follow a reading of Huckleberry Finn. A progression of writing assignments is suggested to help students evaluate how critics’ opinions are influenced by the historical and social realities that define their cultural context. While an examination of the influence of cultural context may be worthy, little detail is provided about how a teacher might support students along the way to gain literacy skills and independence. The strength of the unit comes in the form of the progression of writing assignments: students write their own critique of Huckleberry Finn, read historical reviews of the text, compare reviews, conduct historical research, make inferences about how critics’ cultural context influences their views, and then self-evaluate how their own opinions are influenced by their cultural context. The structure, length, and process of assignments are largely left up to the teacher. Rubrics are provided for some of the assignments to define evaluation criteria. This unit assumes a large degree of knowledge and independence of both the teacher and student. Students are left to their own devices in how to conduct a close read of Huckleberry Finn, write critiques of the novel, read historical reviews, compare reviews, conduct research, make inferences, and support their opinions with textual evidence. Teachers too are left to their own devices about how structure and scaffold instruction, foster discussions, pose text-dependent and text-specific questions, provide context and supports, and assess students along the way. Little information is given about what is meant by "cultural context" or how students are to conduct and note their research. The structure, length, and process of writing assignments is left to the teacher to figure out. While students are invited to have opinions about texts, conduct some research, and make inferences about texts and authors, little detail is provided about how students will be supported and held accountable for supporting their opinions and inferences with textual detail. A considerable amount of time and effort is needed to articulate assignments and instructional supports to ensure alignment with the CCSS.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Disagree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

Creative Commons License
This work by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.