Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself Grade 8 Originally published in Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845. Learning Objective



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Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself - Grade 8

Originally published in Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845.
Learning Objective: The goal of this two to three day exemplar is to give students the opportunity to explore the point of view of a man who survived slavery. By reading and rereading the passage closely, combined with classroom discussion about it, students will explore the various beliefs and points of view Douglass experienced as he became increasingly aware of the unfairness of his life. Students will need to consider the emotional context of words and how diction (word choice) affects an author’s message. When combined with writing about the passage and teacher feedback, students will form a deeper understanding of how slavery affected those involved.

Reading Task: Students will silently read the passage in question on a given day—first independently and then following along with the text as the teacher and/or skillful students read aloud. Depending on the difficulties of a given text and the teacher’s knowledge of the fluency abilities of students, the order of the student silent read and the teacher reading aloud with students following might be reversed. What is important is to allow all students to interact with challenging text on their own as frequently and independently as possible. Students will then reread specific passages in response to a set of concise, text-dependent questions that compel them to examine the meaning and structure of Douglass’s prose. Therefore, rereading is deliberately built into the instructional unit.
Vocabulary Task: Most of the meanings of words in the exemplar text can be discovered by students from careful reading of the context in which they appear. Teachers can use discussions to model and reinforce how to learn vocabulary from contextual clues, and students must be held accountable for engaging in this practice. Where it is judged this is not possible, underlined words are defined briefly for students to the right of the text in a separate column whenever the original text is reproduced. At times, this is all the support these defined words need. At other times, particularly with abstract words, teachers will need to spend more time explaining and discussing them. In addition, in subsequent close readings of passages of the text, high value academic (‘Tier Two’) words have been bolded to draw attention to them. Given how crucial vocabulary knowledge is for academic and career success, it is essential that these high value words be discussed and lingered over during the instructional sequence.

Sentence Syntax Task: On occasion students will encounter particularly difficult sentences to decode. Teachers should engage in a close examination of such sentences to help students discover how they are built and how they convey meaning. While many questions addressing important aspects of the text double as questions about syntax, students should receive regular supported practice in deciphering complex sentences. It is crucial that the help they receive in unpacking text complexity focuses both on the precise meaning of what the author is saying and why the author might have constructed the sentence in this particular fashion. That practice will in turn support students’ ability to unpack meaning from syntactically complex sentences they encounter in future reading.

Discussion Task: Students will discuss the exemplar text in depth with their teacher and their classmates, performing activities that result in a close reading of Douglass’s prose. The goal is to foster student confidence when encountering complex text and to reinforce the skills they have acquired regarding how to build and extend their understanding of a text. A general principle is to always reread the passage that provides evidence for the question under discussion. This gives students another encounter with the text, helping them develop fluency and reinforcing their use of text evidence.
Writing Task: Students will write an explanatory paragraph using their understanding of the word choice and emotions expressed in the selection to present their opinions about what Douglass is trying to explain to the audience. Teachers might afford students the opportunity to revise their paragraphs after participating in classroom discussion or receiving teacher feedback, allowing them to refashion both their understanding of the text and their expression of that understanding.
Outline of Lesson Plan: This lesson can be delivered in two to three days of instruction and reflection on the part of students and their teacher.

Standards Addressed: The following Common Core State Standards are the focus of this exemplar: RL 8.1, RL.8.2, RL.8.3, RL.8.4; W.8.1, W.8.4; SL.8.1, SL.8.3.

The Text: Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845)

Exemplar Text

Vocabulary

The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent on errands, I always took my book with me, and by going on one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;—not that it would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to say of the dear little fellows, that they lived on Philpot Street, very near Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard. I used to talk this matter of slavery over with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free as they would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?” These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.
I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.


chore (singular)
give

to show of

thankfulness;

state of being wise

and careful
place where ships are repaired or built

speaker
thrown out

release



In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.


a movement to allow Catholics to have full rights;

speaking out loud

publicly condemn
keep alive

hate

squirmed or struggled
miserable

alive; resource or advantage more important than any other (short for trumpet)




Day One: Instructional Exemplar for Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave
Summary of Activities

  1. Teacher introduces the day’s passage with minimal commentary and students read it independently. (5 minutes)

  2. Teacher or a skillful reader then reads the passage out loud to the class as students follow along in the text. (5 minutes)

  3. Teacher asks the class to discuss the first set of text-dependent questions and perform targeted tasks about the passage, with answers in the form of notes, annotations to the text, or more formal responses as appropriate. (40 minutes)

  4. Teacher then assigns a paragraph that asks students to write an analysis of Douglass’ text.



Text Passage under Discussion

Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students

The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read . . .
[read the intervening text]
. . . The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.

1. Introduce the passage and students read independently.

Other than giving the brief definitions offered to words students would likely not be able to define from context (underlined in the text), avoid giving any background context or instructional guidance at the outset of the lesson while students are reading the text silently. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Douglass’s prose. It is critical to cultivating independence and creating a culture of close reading that students initially grapple with rich texts like Douglass’ text without the aid of prefatory material, extensive notes, or even teacher explanations.


2. Read the passage out loud to the class as students follow along in the text.

Asking students to listen to Narrative of the Life exposes them a second time to the rhythms and meaning of Douglass’ language before they begin their own close reading of the passage. Speaking clearly and carefully will allow students to follow Douglass’ narrative, and reading out loud with students following along improves fluency while offering all students access to this complex text. Accurate and skillful modeling of the reading provides students who may be dysfluent with accurate pronunciations and syntactic patterns of English.







Text Under Discussion

Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students

The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent on errands, I always took my book with me, and by going on one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;—not that it would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to say of the dear little fellows, that they lived on Philpot Street, very near Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard.


chore

give


to show thankfulness; state of being wise and careful
place where ships are repaired or built

3. Ask the class to answer a small set of text-dependent guided questions and perform targeted tasks about the passage, with answers in the form of notes, annotations to the text, or more formal responses as appropriate.

As students move through these questions and reread Douglass’ text, be sure to check for and reinforce their understanding of academic vocabulary in the corresponding text (which will be boldfaced the first time it appears in the text). At times, the questions themselves may focus on academic vocabulary.



(Q1) Why is Douglass specific about making friends with “little white boys”?

Students may not have internalized the title and may not understand that this is a story of a former slave or that this is during the period where whites had a lot more power. Teachers should point them back to the title if they cannot answer this question, allowing students to clarify their own thinking through the text.


(Q2) How did Douglass learn how to read when running errands?

Taking bread with him, he would quickly finish the first part of an errand and then exchange the bread for a reading lesson before completing the remainder of his chores.


(Q3) In what ways does Douglass’ life differ from the white boys’ lives?

Students should see that Douglass is not condemning his upbringing totally. He was denied an education, which he finds more valuable than food. However, he does have bread, where many of the white boys are hungry.


(Q4) Douglass is describing events from the past. These “boys” are now adult men, so why would he avoid giving their names?

He thinks they still might get in trouble for having taught a slave to read. This is the “unpardonable offence”. He is also concerned that as adults they may be embarrassed at having done this.



I used to talk this matter of slavery over with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free as they would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?” These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.
I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.


speaker


thrown out
release


(Q5) Which of these meanings of “trouble” is Douglass using? Why did he choose this word? How would the meaning have changed if he had chosen the word “anger”?

Students may vary in which definitions they believe apply, but they should see that Douglass is using multiple meanings of this word. He is emphasizing that slavery can cause more than one kind of trouble: emotional or physical pain, frustration, or even anxiety. The use of “trouble” instead of “angry” suggests that the boys did not feel all that strongly about slavery even if they were uncomfortable with Douglass being a slave.


(Q6) Why does Douglass describe the master’s response as both “desired” and “unexpected”? Why the contrast between these two words?

He did not expect the slave to be freed, which is why the voluntary emancipation surprised him. Advanced students might infer that as much as Douglass desires for masters to acknowledge the arguments of a former slave in this book against slavery, he does not expect it.


Ask students to parse the syntax of the final sentence in the passage, paying careful attention to how the constituent parts of the sentence add up to create the unique meaning of Douglass’s words.
Assign a paragraph that asks students to write an analysis of Douglass’ text.

Teachers can ask students to spell out their answers to (Q5) or (Q6) in greater detail using evidence drawn from the text, or if they prefer, ask students to address the following prompt:


Explain the irony implicit in Douglass’ observation that “it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country.”

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