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Gendered POV in Literature

Soldier's Heart, by Gary Paulsen and The Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller

· Teachers

For Women's History Month, I'm re-publishing this teaching post, which recommends balancing a Civil War Social Studies staple -- Soldier's Heart, by Gary Paulsen -- with a new, women-centric book, The Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller.

To teach CC ELA standards for historical fiction in 7th grade, 7.R.RL.09, I used two very different books about the American Civil War. They helped students identify how changing the point of view, or perspective, of characters in historical fiction can radically change the story.

Soldier's Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers, by Gary Paulsen

This book was traditionally read at the middle school where I taught, but after teaching this and a non-fiction biography about Benedict Arnold (from the American Revolution, not the Civil War - see blog post American Revolution Reads), I decided the course texts were top-heavy on white male main characters.

Before reading the book, students viewed several Frontline episodes about post traumatic stress disorder. This video, and our classroom discussion, also helped build students' background knowledge for 8th grade teachers when they teach 2SS.C8.PO14, or how 20-21st century events in the Middle East impact the US.

There are several excellent, commercially available reading guides for Paulsen's Soldier's Heart, and I purchased and used two of them. In addition, I purchased class copies of the book and the audio book. Students read / listened in class and completed comprehension questions afterward.

Then I introduced the idea that women didn't always "make history," in the sense that they didn't make big headlines or get to sign treaties or lead soldiers into battle. Students read a New York Times Upfront / Scholastic article on "Women on the Front Lines."

I introduce the idea that perhaps, even back in the Civil War, women participated on the front lines, and asked students to predict what kinds of roles women played, and how their parts would be the same or different than those of men.

In the Civil War, of course, perspective - gender and racial - meant everything.

Students then read this book, The Girls of Gettysburg, which shows the perspectives of three very different girls in the Civil War. The publisher offers an Educator's Guide aligned to CC Standards for younger grades.

Students identified with the characters, in part because of their ages. The vocabulary is below most middle school students' reading levels, but that made the text a fast read and easily accessible for comparison (use the graphic organizer of your choice - there's plenty offered for free online) and discussion in class.

When they were finished, they compared and contrasted the experiences of one "girl" and Charley Goddard.

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