Four years ago I began teaching 10th grade World Literature. When I received the book list for the course, I saw The Count of Monte Cristo. My first thought was, “This sure is a long book (even abridged) to read during the school year.” The abridged version on the list was 531 pages. I did a quick calculation and to teach the book in the “traditional” way and to move through the book in the “normal” two week time frame, I would have to assign roughly 40 pages a night. I knew that was not going to happen. Assigning 40 pages a night would ensure that no one read the entire book. Okay, well, almost no one. Therefore, I immediately decided on a pace that I felt would ensure students read the book and landed at a four week unit. My next question, of course, was “4 weeks!? We aren’t reading Crime and Punishment here; it’s The Count of Monte Cristo. How much can I talk about the themes of revenge, justice, God’s retribution, and love & alienation for four weeks!? And you can only emphasize the romantic style of Dumas so many times before the kids are going to puke.” I was stumped, but I knew that, for me, the best option was to teach the novel the first year and then figure out how I could improve the lesson for the future.
I admit; the first year I taught the novel, we had a lot of discussions about plot summary. However, during our discussions, I noticed students who had never talked before were answering questions. Students who earned B’s on tests, scored A’s. The kids loved the book; there was no denying that. I, however, did not love the way I taught it. I, therefore, devoted myself to finding a better way to teach the novel.
Flash forward one year. I was sitting in a legal seminar earning my Continuing Legal Education hours for the year and staring at my Count of Monte Cristo unit notes. I started reading the summaries I had created from the previous year, and I heard the presenter say “intervening cause.” At that moment it hit me. Edmond Dantès seeks revenge on his enemies. He sets events in motion that cause deaths, kidnappings, insanity, and financial ruin. He claims that his enemies are destroyed because of God’s retribution for their sins; he is just an agent of God. However, would he be legally liable, or would intervening causes allow him to escape liability for all of the destruction he caused? Eureka! I had an intriguing problem to solve! I had an intriguing question for my students, and at that moment, the beginning of The Count of Monte Cristo Mock Trial Project was born.
Now, students read the novel first. I have them read the first 15 chapters of the abridged version before I give the students a role for the trial. After everyone has read the first 15 chapters, I assign each student a role – either lawyer or witness. (Before I assigned roles, I explained the duties of both witnesses and attorneys and then asked the students to tell me their preference of whether they would want to be a witness or an attorney in the trial. I honor those requests in my assignments. Sometimes I have too many students who request to be lawyers. When that happens I pick the defendant, the Count of Monte Cristo, from the students who have requested to be an attorney.) When the students receive their role, they are given the following directions:
Witnesses, to be well-prepared for your role in the trial, you will have to read and keep track of the important information related to your character. The Character Chart and Cause/Effect Chart on OneNote should help you keep track of your character and why he/she acts the way she does. As you read and analyze your character, you should evaluate whether your character would be more helpful for the prosecution or defense. We will discuss this concept often during our discussion of the novel.
Lawyers, to be well-prepared for your role in the trial, you will have to read and keep track of the important information related to the Count of Monte Cristo and the characters he meets. The Cause/Effect Chart on OneNote should help you keep track of different actions by the Count of Monte Cristo and the effect of those actions. As you read and analyze the different characters, you should determine which characters would be more helpful for the prosecution or defense. We will discuss this concept often during our discussion of the novel.
Therefore, as students read, they are reading with a purpose – either to become an expert on a specific character, or to prepare to defend or prosecute Dantès. Everyone is reading to develop the connections between Dantès’ actions and the destruction of his enemies. They are also reading with an eye toward answering the question – Is Edmond Dantès wholly responsible for the deaths, kidnappings, and loss of wealth, or did other intervening actions cause these events. (Dantès claims God sets all of the actions in motion and, therefore, he is not to blame; with every reading, the students are evaluating if Dantès is correct in his claims.) Students must monitor their own progress throughout the unit. At designated intervals, however, we, as a class, discuss the novel and analyze the latest facts in the case. We discuss at the following intervals: Chapters 1-15; Chapters 16-21; Chapters 22-40; Chapters 41-50; Chapters 51-62; Chapters 63-73
At every interval, students take a short reading quiz to assess whether they are keeping up with the reading. As a method of differentiated instruction, I also permit students to either (1) summarize the chapters from their character’s perspective, or (2) complete a cause and effect chart for the events that occurred in the assigned chapters. Although everyone takes the quiz, if a student demonstrates through his/her summary or cause and effect chart a deeper understanding of the assigned chapters than his/her quiz grade reflects, I replace the quiz grade with the proper grade reflected in his/her summary and/or chart. In this way, students are encouraged to keep track of their character throughout the reading rather than trying to remember everything at the end of the novel. When the students have read all of the chapters, they begin their formal analysis of the case and what role they will play in the trial. Witnesses are instructed to write a letter to the attorneys discussing (all that apply):
· How you know the Count of Monte Cristo
· What your thoughts of the Count of Monte Cristo are
· How the Count of Monte Cristo impacted your life
· How the Count of Monte Cristo used you and how you used him
· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the deaths of Caderousse, Marquis and Marquise Saint Méran, Barrois, Madame Villefort, and Edouard Villefort
· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the kidnappings of Albert de Morcerf and Baron Danglars
· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the bankruptcy of Danglars
· Whether your testimony will help or hurt the Count of Monte Cristo’s case
Witnesses are encouraged to “play the part” and to write from the character’s perspective. The witness letter, for many, is opportunity to use creativity in their writing. (Witness letters are posted on the shared OneNote notebook for everyone to view. Once posted, I review the letters and provide feedback within OneNote that the students can access at any time.) Lawyers are provided with an analysis chart and asked to complete the document, analyzing the role each witness will play in the trial. This document is a scaffolding technique that helps guide the attorneys in their thinking and leads them to begin strategizing for the best prosecution or defense. (The attorneys’ analyses are posted on the shared OneNote notebook under the password protected folder for either the prosecution or defense so their fellow lawyers can see their work. Once posted, I review the analyses of each attorney and provide feedback within OneNote that the lawyers can access at any time.)
Once we are finished reading the novel, I spend a day discussing the controlling law with the students. We use the Alabama Criminal Code as our controlling law, and we go through every statute that applies to the case and discuss the significance of the law.
Following the discussion of law, students break into prosecution and defense teams. (At this point, I create a witness list and put some of the witnesses on the prosecution team and some of the witnesses on the defense team.) In these teams, the students work together to determine how each witness either helps or hurts their team’s case. Attorneys work with witnesses, reviewing their letters and determining the importance of each witness.
Once the teams have begun to map out their theory of the case and how each witness will impact the trial, I spend some time instructing the students on how to draft questions for direct examination and cross examination. Students then draft questions that they believe the prosecution and the defense should ask them. (Questions are posted to the shared OneNote notebook so that everyone can see them. Once posted, I review and post comments to the questions within OneNote that the students and lawyers can access at any time.)
After the students have a working draft of their questions, I spend some more time discussing courtroom decorum and the rules of evidence for a trial. I help them understand how to object, what to object to, how to admit evidence, etc.
With all of the necessary information, students are given two more days to finalize their trial preparations and revise their line of questioning, etc. We then conduct the trial. Depending on the class size (i.e., how many witnesses we have) and the depth of the questioning, the detail of their objections, the length of jury deliberations, etc., the trial generally takes 4 ½ class days. (50 minutes per class) The jury is composed of teachers who volunteer and/or former students of mine who volunteer.
During the trial, witnesses who are not testifying, are attentively listening to the trial and taking notes based upon the other witnesses’ testimony. I provide them with a chart to keep track of each witnesses’ testimony and what facts presented by the witness prove that God controlled the downfall of Dantès’ enemies and what facts presented prove that Dantès is the sole cause of the deaths, kidnappings, and loss of wealth. This chart guides the students in their collection of evidence and helps them prepare for their out-of-class essay.
When the trial is over, students write an out-of-class essay answering the prompt: Were the punishments of Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand Mondego really God’s retribution or wholly the cause of Edmond Dantès?
(Note: The prompt is inspired by the novel. Dantès claims that his enemies are destroyed because God chooses to punish them for their evil; he believes he is only an agent of God rather than the cause of their downfall. In short, his belief is his main defense in the trial.)
If you are interested, you can find student directions, rubrics, portions of the OneNote notebook we share and some student samples at the following SkyDrive folder here.
What do you think? Would you conduct a mock trial in your class?