Friday, March 5th, 2010...10:03 am
A change in curriculum, a change in pedagogy
Senioritis. Senior burnout. The seniors have officially checked out. Put it anyway you wish, the bottom line was something in my English 12 classroom was simply NOT working. The students were not completing the required reading, they were handing in less than mediocre work (if they handed it in at all), and they were constantly treating my class as one big social hour. All this led to me losing it. I yelled, I snapped, I grew frustrated to the point of tears. Then I took a couple of deep breaths and thought about how to fix the situation.
First move: I asked the students what their frustrations were with the class. I believe that teachers too often create beautiful, inspiring, thought provoking lesson plans and curriculums that simply fall short of the students’ needs. I felt that by asking them what they were upset with and what they wanted, I could better understand and then meet those needs. Their answers:
- We are sick of being forced to read literature that we don’t relate to. We want to pick out our own reading. We are not sick of reading just sick of reading things we don’t like.
- We are all interested in different projects: art, technology, music. We want to do something that will let us choose how we talk about literature instead of being forced to write a paper or give a speech.
- We are sick of doing things over and over. We feel like we are talking and writing about the same things just with different teachers and different books.
Second move: I asked permission to reconsider the curriculum. Granted. I started to look for ways to meet my students’ requests while still maintaining high learning standards. In my CyberEnglish9 class, my mentor and I created an Independent Reading unit in the curriculum that I absolutely love. I decided to begin with that, reconsider it to meet the needs of my seniors (not CyberEnglish students) and develop a unit from there. It’s not perfect and it definitely is a work in progress but my seniors are at least willing to complete the requirements. Important aspects of the unit:
- The students pick their own texts (although the book has to be approved by me). This allows even my most reluctant readers to find a book they are interested in: a true story about a disabled wrestler, a group of card counting MIT students run Vegas, a young high school student journals her way through her drug addiction.
- The students develop a project (also approved by me) that portrays the important themes presented through the text. Thus far, the project requests have included a PowerPoint, a Prezi presentation, a song and a drawing/painting.
- The students have to complete two detailed pieces of writing that has them consider the human experiences and general societal issues discussed in the text.
- Throughout the students’ journey to completing their text and project, I will bring in short stories and poetry to teach them more about literary devices and help them develop skills in discussing the human experience/societal issues.
Third move: I wait for the unit to come to an end and reconsider the pros/cons of this student constructed unit. Questions I am looking to answer:
- Was there too much freedom within the unit?
- How can I guide my students to high quality literature and thoughtful project while still allowing them to make their own decisions?
- Are the short story/poetry minilessons about literary devices, the human experience and issues in society being carried over into their own unit projects?