To Kill a Mockingbird -- revisited

When I first visited the segregated high school my son is in, I was told: There will be no reading of To Kill a Mockingbird in this school. The focus would be on practical skills, the guidance counsellor said, like reading road signs.

I don't know why, but it bothered me that I was being told my son would never read To Kill a Mockingbird.

Oddly, I was an English major and I myself had never read To Kill a Mockingbird.

Still, it irked me when I was told this was a standard Grade 9 text and my son would never read it. I don't want anyone telling me that my son will "never" do anything.

So imagine my surprise (and delight), when I wrote to a researcher in inclusion last week asking for practical examples of how curriculum can be adapted for different abilities and one of the examples she sent was To Kill a Mockingbird!

Cheryl Jorgensen is a professor in the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, and has co-authored a number of books on inclusion, including Beyond The Access Model.

I wrote to Cheryl after visiting a deaf/hard of hearing program in a regular high school here in Toronto. The students have some classes in their unit and are mainstreamed with interpreters into regular classes as well. Most of these kids are typical kids who happen to be deaf and are working at grade level or a couple of grades below. I wanted to know if there was any practical way that my son might be able to be served at this school.

My question to Cheryl was: How do you modify for a child nine grades below in a subject? In a way that meets their learning needs and doesn't ostracize them?

One of the resources Cheryl sent me was a powerpoint about adapting high school books, and one of the books included was To Kill a Mockingbird.

The first page includes the large image above and this text:

This is Scout Finch. Scout is a nickname. The story of To Kill a Mockingbird is told through her eyes.

Scout’s mom is dead so she lives with her dad and her brother in a small town called Maycomb, Alabama.

The presentation goes on to introduce each of the main characters with an image and simple description, and then talks about the four major lessons Scout learns. For example: 'Don't judge until you put yourself in another's shoes.'

This adaptation was done by using a website that analyzes content of books for older students. Here's their plot description of To Kill a Mockingbird.

There are 100s of books on this site and they all have plot summaries which can be used to quickly adapt books.

In responding to my question about how to modify a Grade 9 book to a Grade 2 level, Cheryl offered this advice:

All text needs to be provided to all students at their comprehension reading level. This is a law in the U.S. but perhaps not in Canada. Ideas:

Have the student listen to the text using a screen reader.
Have another student rewrite the text at the student's level.
Have a teacher re-write the text at the student's level.
Find an easier version of the same text. There are even comic books available for high school literature like Romeo and Juliet.

Providing different materials and individualized supports does not have to be ostracizing if teachers communicate to their students that 'fair' does not necessarily mean 'the same.' This doesn't even have to do specifically with inclusion of students with disabilities but is a principle of universal design for learning and differentiated instruction. All students need access to print materials/knowledge at the level of their reading and comprehension and there should be different options for students to 'show what they know.'

I hope to provide you with more resources that show how students of all abilities can access the regular curriculum over the coming days. Louise