Analyzing Motifs of Home in a Segregated World

Lesson Focus and Instructional Purpose

Cross Disciplinary Themes Addressed

A team of high school teachers developed a series of lessons that are connected by theme and skills through math, English, and History. The themes include segregation, symbolism, and the making of valid claims based on interpretations of data.

A note about our planning process: we created lessons that would impact students' understanding and performance in an existing 9th grade History assessment.  This History assessment is a document based question (also known as a DBQ) that all 9th grade students complete at our school.  In other words, if we imagine the assessment as the center of a wheel, the lessons we created are the spokes of that wheel. 

Unifying Essential Question(s)

How can understanding systemic discrimination help us understand issues of discrimination today in our communities?

Subject Area Question(s)

Subject Supporting Questions
History What are restrictive covenants? How does housing segregation affect our communities?
English What does the motif of the house mean to the main character in the book Devil in a Blue Dress?
Math How can we use data representations to make valid convincing claims and predictions?

Collaborative Learning Objective(s)

Students understand literary and historical themes of disparate prosperity.
Students can make a claim supported by evidence.

Subject Area Learning Objectives

Subject Learning Objective
History Student can define restrictive covenant. Student can explain the effects of restrictive covenants on residential segregation.
English Students can analyze the motif and significance of home through the perspective of the character, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins in the fictional novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley.
Math Students observe, describe, and interpret the features of different data representations. They analyze and interpret increasing and decreasing linear trends in the data display and use equations and graphs of a line of best fit to extrapolate and interpolate from the data.

Standards Addressed

 Mathematics  ELA/Literacy  Social Studies
 CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP3  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1  CCSS.Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies.RH1-2



Close Reading Text Set

Anchor Text

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Mosley, Walter. Devil in a Blue Dress. New York: Washington Square Press, 2002.

Supporting Texts

Subject Title of Supporting Text URL of Supporting Text

Organized Text Set

Text Title Learning Objective

Student Activities and Tasks

Text-Dependent Questions

For this English lesson the series of text dependent questions are:

  1. What feelings does the main character have for his home?
  2. Who is the “I” in the quote? 
  3. Who is the “her” that the main character refers to?
  4. Which words does the author Mosley use to show how he feels about his home? 
  5. What do these particular feelings demonstrate about the main character’s feelings towards his home?
  6.  What does the author convey in using the motif of the home?

Formative Assessment Strategies and Tasks

In this English formative assessment, students will respond in writing to the following text-dependent questions based on the teacher model and lesson activities: 

  1. What does Easy’s house mean to him? 
  2. What does Easy’s house represent to him?
  3.  What is the significance of this motif? 
  4. Students' writing will demonstrate their understanding of a literary motif, its meaning, and significance.

Culminating Assessment

Having studied literature, primary and secondary sources, graphs, and statistics related to the disparity in prosperity in our communities, students will complete a Document Based Question assessment that answers the writing prompt of: Was the postwar transformation of the Bay Area ultimately beneficial or harmful? In this formal written assessment, students will do the following:

1. State a claim that is supported by reasons and evidence
2. Interpret at least one data set and use this interpretation in support of the claim
3. Explain the harmful effects of segregation particularly in the area of housing

Background Knowledge and Prerequisite Skills

Pre-requisite Learning

In this English lesson, students should be able to define literary motif and be somewhat proficient in being able to identify motifs in fictional text. Students should be able to be somewhat skilled in analyzing text using close reading protocols.

Pre-assessment of Readiness for Learning

Throughout this lesson, students will be asked to identify, interpret, and analyze a motif. Built into this lesson are points for the teacher to check for understanding about a motif, including teaching modeling and written practice. Based on student understanding, the teacher can modify the pace and instruction accordingly.

Organization of Instructional Activities

1. Students read at least Ch. 1-16 of Devil in the Blue Dress. Depending on classroom reading routines, these chapters can be read individually, as a class, as a readers’ theater. [up to 2 weeks]

2. As a warm-up, ask students to make a list words or phrases, or draw pictures or images that they associate with “home.” Acknowledge that we have a variety of associations with home, and that today we are going to focus on the character of Easy and what his home means to him in the novel Devil in the Blue Dress. [5 minutes] 

3. To move forward, direct students to look back at their list. Ask students which of their associations would also hold true for Easy? Which words, phrases, or pictures would represent the meaning of home for Easy? Share out and scribe for the class. Transition by telling students we’ll look closely at 4 quotes from the book to see which of our predictions is supported by evidence from the text. [5 minutes]

4. Display this quote from Devil in the Blue Dress to the class. “I loved her and I was jealous of her and if the bank sent the county marshal to take her from me I might have come at him with a rifle rather than to give her up.” (Mosley 57) Follow up this display with a series of guiding questions:
a. Who is the “I” in the quote?
b. Who is the “her” that Easy refers to?
c. Which words does Mosley use to show how he feels about his home?
d. What do these particular feelings demonstrate about Easy’s feelings towards his home?
e. So, why then does he refer to his home as “she” and not “it”?
f. Share the rest of the quote: “But that house meant more to me than any woman I ever knew.” (Mosley 57)
g. Ask students what impact this additional sentence has on our understanding of the quote. Guide students to consider that this additional sentence emphasizes and reinforces the importance of the home to Easy.
h.Using the responses to the guiding questions above, model the writing of the analysis of the quote using an analysis protocol.
i. Check for understanding by asking students what this quote tells us about the meaning of the home to Easy before moving on. [10-15 minutes] 

5. The remaining three quotes are more challenging to analyze as the last two do not directly discuss Easy’s home, but reference his life in California. In pairs, have students read and analyze the three other quotes that include the motif of home.
The following quotes are:
a. “The thought of paying my mortgage reminded me of my front yard and the shade of my fruit trees in the summer heat. I felt that I was just as good as any white man, but if I didn’t even own my front door then people would look at me like just another poor beggar, with his hand outstretched.” (p.53, Ch.2)
b. “When I was a poor man, and landless, all I worried about was a place for the night and food to eat; you really didn’t need much for that…But when I got that mortgage I found that I needed more than friendship.” (p. 66, Ch. 3)
c. “California was like heaven for the Southern Negro. People told stories of how you could eat fruit right off the trees and get enough work to retire one day. The stories were true for the most part but the truth wasn’t like the dream. Life was still hard in L.A. and if you worked every day you still found yourself on the bottom.” (p.72, Ch.4) [30-45 minutes]

6. Utilize a “hot seat” protocol to share out the analysis of the remaining three quotes. A student chooses one of the quotes to share. S/he reads aloud the quote as if s/he were Easy, then as if thinking out loud, share out the analysis. This can be done in smaller groups of 4 or as a whole class. [30 - 45 minutes]

7. Bring the class together to revisit the list that we generated at the beginning of the lesson: What words, phrases, images, or symbols represent home to Easy? Edit this brainstorm based on our text analysis, and discuss which of the list is best supported by the quotes. [10 minutes]

8. Remind students that we have studied the concept of motif prior to this book, and review the definition -- a theme, idea, object, etc. that is repeated throughout a text. Looking at the list we’ve generated, which of them would best complete the sentence: “Mosley uses the motif of home to convey…”? Scribe the possible ways to complete this sentence on a poster paper. [10 minutes]

9. Have students choose one of the completed sentence starters as a starting point for their formative assessment. They can choose the quotes that are already analyzed or look for additional quotes from the book.

10. Respond to the focus questions in a writing: What does Easy’s house mean to him? What does Easy’s house represent to him? What is the significance of this motif? [30 minutes]

Download: ExcerptsfromDevilinaBlueDress.pdf

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