English teacher Lori Barnett organized a unique trial project to help her Psychology and Literature students explore the perplexing Tim O’Brien novel “In the Lake of the Woods.” Barnett combined her two Psychology and Literature classes to conquer the unusual organization of the mystery novel.
“In the Lake of the Woods” is split among three different types of chapters: titled chapters, evidence chapters, and hypothesis chapters.
In the book, two star-crossed lovers try to find their way. Wife Kathy Wade goes missing after the second week before she and her husband of nearly seven years (John Wade) find themselves in the ‘Lake of the Woods.’
The remainder of the book brings up flashbacks of John’s time in the Vietnam War along with his memories of his wife, practicing magic, and much more.
The titled chapters contain the facts of the book, bringing up either past memories or experiences in the present day. The evidence chapters are testimonials from different characters in the book or quotes from different books, speeches, figureheads, and more. The point of the evidence chapters it to give some credibility to the eight hypotheses that were proposed.
In the hypothesis chapters, O’Brien postulates what exactly could have happened to Kathy. These eight hypotheses formed the basis of the project-based assignment Barnett posed to her two classes.
She assigned her students in Psych and Lit to different hypotheses and asked them to collaborate with other classmates to construct a trial-like scenario.
The groups had to gather the book’s testimonials, witnesses, maps, and other pieces of evidence to present a thoughtful case to judges and a jury. Hypotheses four and five were combined, so Barnett formed seven teams.
These teams worked on the assignment outside of class for a month before the scheduled court date. Junior Zakaria Lamri said that “working with another block outside of class was a little tricky, but thankfully I was paired with hard working, determined students. We worked every day after school the week before the trial and were always texting or calling each other about new information that we found.”
The students that were paired with other classmates in their block also expressed how it was difficult finding time to work on the project outside of class. Senior Garthan Freeman expressed that “even though [he] had team members in his block, it was hard fitting into our schedules when to meet. Thankfully we all found time and our presentation was a success, however, it was pretty stressful the week prior to the court hearing.”
Freeman was correct in the fact that his presentation was a success. In fact, all of the proposed hypotheses were expressed in an very convincing way. The mock trial was set up in the board room on Friday, November 20, 2015 during the third Friday rotation. Hypotheses also were not argued in chronological order like they were written in the book, so this added an element of spontaneity and excitement to the courtroom.
The trial became incredibly heated, especially during the cross examination. During the cross, numerous teams attacked a single team, scrutinizing them on their performance.
Evidence was questioned, beliefs were attacked, objections were thrown left and right; it was in those moments that the room truly felt like a courthouse.
Senior Skye Berman recalled that “the project based project really helped me comprehend the book better than if I was tested.”
Berman also said “if I was given a test, I don’t think I would have understood the book as well as I had with the electric trial.” Electricity was certainly running through the board room during the day of the trial.
Barnett was impressed and rather proud of her psychology classes for devoting such a significant amount of their time to the project.
Because of the classes’ devotion and the success of the trial, Barnett is going to make the trial project a permanent tradition for her psychology classes.
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