Currently, I am teaching The Odyssey for the first time in my career (I think. I might have blocked out teaching it like a bad memory; it’s not my favorite text.) As per my curriculum’s instructions, I’ve been working on summarizing, characterization, and conflict with the kids while reading Book One, and this week I assessed those skills using a passage they hadn’t read before.
And while most students rocked the summarizing skill portion of the task, some epically misunderstood these lines from the text:
But all of the suitors broke into uproar through the shadowed halls,
all of them lifting prayers to lie beside [Penelope], share her bed,
until discreet Telemachus took command:
(A little context might be helpful as well: Odysseus, the king of Ithaka, is taking an eternity to get home from the Trojan War and people fear him dead. His wife Penelope, a snack, is bedeviled by suitors who have taken up residence in her own home.)
Now think like an 8th grader. How would you interpret this with your nearly teenage brain? Let’s look at some student responses.
- “Penelope dies, which leaves the suitors devastated.”
- “Penelope’s suitors hope to follow her into her room, but Telemachus does not allow it.”
- “The suitors are outraged that Penelope has gone back to her room without them.”
- “The suitors are entering Penelope’s room as Telemachus yells at them for destroying his house.”
- “The suitors come to ask Penelope if they can sleep next to her . . .”
- “The suitors try to get into Penelope’s bed and cause an uproar, but Telemachus stops them.”
- “The suitors bombarded Telemachus’s mom by going beside her in her own bed.”
Y’all. I giggled uncontrollably while grading. Handling questions about why students missed points for these interpretations is going to be brutal. I don’t think a comment like Well, Kayla, you insinuate salacious behavior occurred instead of explaining that individually the suitors wish to marry Penelope will go over well. So please think happy thoughts for me and my sanity when I hand these assignments back.