This curriculum unit will focus on the writings of Walter Mosley. It will center on the whole class reading of Devil in a Blue Dress, with the possibility of exploring other Easy Rawlins stories and/or other detective fiction written by African American authors.
This unit will be implemented in a mixed grade level (9-12) special education resource English class. Included in the class are students with learning and/or emotional disabilities as determined by a psychological report and Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Each student's educational team has determined that they will not be successful in a regular education English class with their non-disabled peers. Therefore, the students are given adapted English instruction at their functioning level instead of actual grade level. This proves beneficial in that the students' IEPs drive instruction and I have some flexibility with content. Administrators instruct me to follow the district adopted Kaplan curriculum, but it is at my discretion to supplement, modify and adapt instruction based on student needs. It is my opinion that this unit can be modified and adapted for a regular education classroom as well. Included in this unit is a section for an activity used as an extension for my population of students with learning disabilities. This activity includes examining the notion of double-consciousness in Devil in a Blue Dress and subsequent Easy Rawlins novels. This portion of the unit would be very appropriate for any regular or honors education class.
Some parts of Walter Mosley's novels are sexually explicit and there is some use of foul language. The movie, Devil in a Blue Dress is rated R and should be used cautiously. It is my recommendation to send a parent letter with a permission line allowing students to interact with the material. It may also be possible for the teacher to casually "skip over" explicit sections. Most notably, chapter 6, Easy and Coretta James on the couch while Dupree sleeps in the next room, parts of chapter 8, DeWitt Albright and Easy on the pier, parts of chapter 26, Easy and Daphne Monet in the little house behind Primo's place. Chapter 26 does begin to piece together the events of the novel, and it would be difficult to skip this entire chapter.
Soitos describes the double-consciousness trope of all detective fiction as the "masking" trope. He suggests that the black detective must wear two masks. This is both difficult and advantageous. The masking allows the black detective to maneuver his way through the black community to get information, knowledge, clues. He fits in with the culture he is enmeshed in. At the same time, the detective, in an effort to outwit the criminal, must be on his toes. The detective must "act white" in some ways. He is smart (but can't always let on to the black community that he is actually solving the mystery), he must make efforts to communicate with the - often corrupt - white police and/or black police. Easy Rawlins is thoroughly aware of his "blackness" in a white dominated society (Soitos 1996). The first line of Devil in a Blue Dress, "I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar," already identifies race in the opening chapter of the novel. Rawlins must best the criminals' intellect, and in order to do so, he must understand both the white and the black mind. Easy can more easily manipulate both the black and white world to further his solution of the crime if he is able to wear both masks.
The hook for this unit will be two-fold. On the first day of introduction of the novel I will hold class in the auditorium. I will arrange for a still shot of Daphne Monet, the mysterious woman in the blue dress, from the movie Devil in a Blue Dress, to be shown on the projection screen. Students will spend ten minutes working in pairs, one assigned as a recorder, to describe the woman in the picture. Guiding questions will be provided. They include: Describe what she looks like. How is she feeling? Who is she? What is her story? Students will then be given their own copy of the novel. Students will follow along as I read the blurb on the back of the book. I will also read any text on the inside front and back of the cover of the novel. Each student will be asked to write down what they think is the first sentence of the novel. The note cards will be collected. I will mix them up and include the real sentence in the mix. I will read each sentence once, then reread them for students to vote on which they think is the real sentence. Any student who guesses correctly will be awarded Mosley Money. The student whose sentence received the most votes will also receive Mosley Money. A discussion regarding student expectations of the book will take place.
The whole class reading of Devil in a Blue Dress will be used on the fifth day of instruction instead of the reading. The activities will also be used daily when students are not working on their reading instruction with the teacher in the WORDS or RSFL curriculum. It is my hope that students will be highly motivated by the novel and work diligently to complete their daily reading instruction (WORDS and RSFL) in order to be able to work on the their study sheets and other activities for Devil in a Blue Dress. Students will be reading and participating in the novel at different paces. Weekly goals will be set to keep students on track. Extension activities will be provided for students who are well ahead of the group. Homework will be given at least two nights per week. Homework activities will include: Reading to a family member and summary teacher-made knowledge and comprehension questions by chapter, prediction worksheet, drawing a picture or writing a three-paragraph description of a favorite character, choosing a character and describing what he/she is thinking but not saying.
Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries are intended for adult audiences. Devil in a Blue Dress is between a fourth and fifth grade reading level, but the content is appropriate for high school students. The readability level was found using Fry's Readability graph in which an excerpt of one hundred words is selected. The number of sentences and the number of syllables within the one hundred words are counted. This is done with three different excerpts, ideally from the beginning, middle and end of the book. I took passages from chapters three, eleven and nineteen. The readability levels were fifth, second and seventh grade, respectively. An average of those three levels indicates a mean grade level of 4.6. This is probably lower than expected because there is a lot of dialogue that includes short sentences, idioms and dialect. The readability is very appropriate for my below grade level readers, and the content is still of an adult nature. This is extremely beneficial in keeping my students motivated with literature they can read and content that is still interesting. Teachers of literature and social studies at the middle and high school levels may be interested in this unit. The Easy Rawlins novels give historical insight. I recently completed a curriculum in my local seminar through the Pittsburgh Teacher's Institute. The seminar examined African-American impact on United States culture. My unit detailed youth in the civil rights movement. Mosley's novels in historical settings leading up to the civil rights movement will relate to my local seminar curriculum unit.
Mosley Money is a token economy. The Mosley Money itself is not the reinforcement but it is turned in for a reward, in this case, a grade. I have found students constantly want to know what their grade is. They expect every activity, every worksheet, every time they answer a question in class to be graded. They crave this constant reinforcement and often are clueless as to why they received a particular grade, especially a failing one. They will say things like, "But I didn't fall asleep in class on Tuesday." This student did fall asleep on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, though. Mosley Money will actually be raffle tickets. A roll of 1000 can be purchased at most party supply stores. Students will be awarded Mosley Money for the following activities: being seen by me or another school staff member with the Devil in a Blue Dress novel in hand (open or closed) outside of the classroom, for example, at lunch, in detention, while waiting for the bus, while waiting to see the vice principal, in the in-house suspension room, during study hall, in the library - 1 Mosley Money for each such sighting; telling me or another school staff member what they are reading at the time when they are caught reading - that is worth 3 Mosley Money; reading a chapter of the novel to a family member, young or old, at home with a signature or mark to prove it - 5 Mosley Money; reading a chapter of the novel to an adult mentor at after-school tutoring or a community program - 5 Mosley Money. Students will collect Mosley Money each day and return it to my classroom the following day or leave it in their container before the end of the school day. The container should be made of a clear plastic and labeled with each student's name. Two-liter soda pop bottles will make excellent containers. Friday's activities will include each student counting their Mosley Money, which will turn into a weekly participation grade specifically for the novel. The clear container will allow students to see their progress daily and also compare it with that of their peers. Even my most reluctant readers are competitive. I anticipate that they will not want to be the person with the lowest amount of Mosley Money. I will issue the Mosley Money, but students will also have the opportunity to earn money when witnessed by other adults. Verification forms with a signature line can be brought to me in exchange for Mosley Money. I will briefly explain my plans for issuing Mosley Money to the staff at a faculty meeting.