Semester Plan Rationale
Connections Among Units
I chose the overarching theme of there being “two sides to every story” because I believe that perspective, point of view, and self-reflection are important elements to incorporate in an English classroom. Some of my major essential questions include: How does community influence the upbringing of an individual? Can a character be completely classified as “good” or “evil”? How do community belief systems influence upbringing? Are all rules/laws made with the best interest of the community? Do all criminals deserve to be punished? These questions not only inspire students to examine multiple points of view in literature (ELAALR1) but also push them to question where they have come from and why they believe what they believe. Jeffery D. Wilhelm and Michael W. Smith claim that, “inquiry is not simply thematic study, but the exploration of a question or issue that drives debate in the disciplines and the world. Our work shows us that kids need to find both personal connection and social significance in the units and texts we offer them” (233). The connection of questioning society that runs through all three of my units pushes students to think about their own communities and how they will leave a legacy within them.
The first unit requires students to examine multiple sides of an argument between two social groups that lie within a larger community; the second requires examination of individuals within communities and how society influences them. The third one pushes students to reflect upon themselves and their own lives. Through giving the students background information and examples, I intend to offer them opportunities to answer essential questions for themselves and to relate them to their personal lives. Wilhelm and Smith believe that critical inquiry should give students a reason to want to pursue answers to the questions- the topics and ideas should be greater than simply literary. Students yearn for relevance in their lessons, and the universality and connections of my unit plans are intended to help them do so (Wilhelm and Smith 233-235).
Determining Texts
While some of my texts were determined through requirement, others were chosen specifically by me. The Scarlet Letter and We Were Here were required to be included at some point in my semester plan, and I used themes and concepts within them to assist me in making my choices of other novels. I wanted to make sure I included both canonical and young adult literature within my units so that students could find ways to connect more difficult texts to easier ones. Furthermore, students generally find more opportunities to interact and connect with young adult texts because they find them relatable. According to Cole, young adults usually prefer to read about characters who are around their ages or older (39). Characters in We Were Here, The Hunger Games, The House on Mango Street, and even in the canonical text The Crucible are all around the age of seventeen, which is the approximate age of a high school junior.
In addition to the novels, I have also chosen other forms of text to include in my semester plan such as internet websites (and web quests), poetry, short stories, video clips, and interactive PowerPoints. In The English Teacher’s Companion, Burke stresses the necessity of including numerous types of text in the classroom, both literary and nonliterary. I chose my minor texts based off of how they connect with my larger texts and whether or not they are American literature. The Ezra Pound poem “In a Station of the Metro” encompasses community themes, and the movie The Crucible provides an image of Puritan life and community for the students. I chose my non-literary texts on the basis of real-world application. Students will learn how to read and fill out a job application (which once again connects to the concept of the individual in the community) and will learn how to effectively judge the credentials of internet websites to add to their own credibility.
Interdisciplinary Instruction
An American Literature course is ideal for connecting across curriculum, particularly when the students are taking an American History course at the same time. The beliefs and customs of Puritans are often discussed early on in American History classrooms. Since I will be teaching The Crucible at the beginning of the semester, history classes have the potential to greatly reinforce the concepts being explored in my English classroom. Furthermore, many of the issues discussed in my unit relate to issues in history and sociology because they emphasize human interaction within a community and the development of group beliefs and behaviors. Students taking classes in other content classes have the opportunity to connect what they have learned about human nature in literature to the reoccurring events in history.
Furthermore, many of the specific activities that are incorporated in my semester plan may be useful to other courses or may work more efficiently due to other courses. The students will give several presentations to the class (and one to an outside audience). Presentation skills are often addressed and practiced across multiple subjects. Additionally, the students will have to work in small groups to perform literature circles and fishbowl discussion exercises. Other classes that may involve group work with individual roles, such as science, health, and foreign language, will prepare students to communicate more effectively in the English classroom. Tomlinson suggests taking the time to address students who need more personal assistance while the other students are participating in group work (20). Students who are able to stay on task and work well with others are likely to help this theory become a reality.
Real World Literacy
Burke stresses the importance of teaching students multiple literacies that are applicable within real world society. Some of his suggestions that I have chosen to include in my classroom are: job applications, films, and websites (Burke 43). Additionally, students will be exposed to web quests, interactive PowerPoints, and ethical issues on the Internet. All of these literacies reflect the current need to be literate in digital environments. Paul Gilster claims that digital literacy is, “the ability to access networked computer resources and use them…to understand and use information, in multiple formats from a wide range of sources…This art of critical thinking governs how you use what you find on-line, for with tools of electronic publishing dispersed globally, the Net is a study of the myriad uses of rhetoric” (qtd in Burke 273). In the same way that students can analyze literature, they will be required to analyze other forms of text, including internet websites, for this unit.
One of my main forms of assessment for digital literacy will be through the digital project the students must complete in relation to the novel West Side Story. This project will measure their ability to effectively choose images that relate to themes within the text and to use them to tell a story. Students will experiment with Windows Moviemaker and will choose their own images as a form of rhetoric. Additionally, the students will be assessed through discussion of the credibility of Internet websites. Tomlinson stresses that teachers should use assessment to “gather information about student achievement that can be used for instructional purposes” (131). Every time my students use the Internet or I use an Internet article in class, we will have a class discussion about the article and how it is/is not a credible, reliable source. Furthermore, the students will be taught the practical skills of filling out a job application in class. They will complete an application by hand and turn it in to the teacher as a form of assessment.
Consideration of Diversity
As an American Literature teacher, it is my role to expose students to literature written by many different types of people so that all students will have opportunities to connect with stories and will be educated on the diversity of the United States as a nation. Coleman emphasizes that adolescents need literature with characters they can relate to on a personal level (41).
The texts We Were Here, West Side Story, and The House on Mango Street offer connections across different races and ethnicities. Some of the main characters in all three texts are Latino or black. Two of the authors are also Latinos. Sharing these texts with students shows them that the stereotypical white authors of canonical American literature are not the only authors who are considered American. Furthermore, We Were Here offers linguistic diversity. Each of the characters has his or her own dialect, which shows students that there are more forms to English than simply the “standard.” I also use the writing of Mark Twain to show how adults, as well as adolescents, speak in different dialects depending on their cultural communities.
Furthermore, I made a distinct effort to incorporate gender diversity in my semester plan so that both male and female students have opportunities to connect with the characters. Although The Hunger Games is a science fiction novel (a genre that is sometimes geared toward boys), the main character is a female. Furthermore, The House on Mango Street incorporates numerous female characters. On the other hand, the characters in We Were here are almost all male, and most of the main characters in West Side Story are also young men. Pieces such as The Scarlet Letter and “The Yellow Wallpaper” address gender roles and stereotypes that students will be able to discuss and reflect upon in class.
GPS Incorporation and Assessment
The GPS’s that I address the most are ELAALRC2, and ELAALRL2. C2 involves class discussion that ranges across multiple subjects, while L2 involves the understanding of themes within texts. Since my overarching theme is matched with themes within the texts, I have numerous assessments to address that standard. For example, the students participate in a fishbowl that emphasizes whether characters can be classified as good or evil. The theme of multiple sides to every story flows through each of my texts, so discussion is important to make sure that the students understand this overarching theme. Furthermore, the students will complete the “Leaving a Legacy” performance task as a summative assessment. This assignment addresses major themes in one of my canonical texts and requires students to synthesize information and create a meaningful presentation.
On the other hand, I addressed the standards ELAALRC1 and ELAALRL5 the least within my twelve-week calendar. C1 requires reading a minimum of twenty-five grade level books, and L5 involves the acquisition and usage of new vocabulary. Although I do not have many assessments for the books standard, I fulfill it through having the students read numerous types of books throughout the semester. Students are assessed on whether they have actually read the books through summative assessments (such as tests and papers) and formative assessments (such as journal entries and classroom discussion) and through an independent reading project. Therefore, this standard is subtly addressed on a near-daily basis, since all of the major texts in the semester plan are novels. However, it is difficult to assess how much the students are reading outside of the English classroom, as other courses are more likely than not requiring students to leave.
The vocabulary standard is addressed through SAT prep vocabulary assignments/activities in my second unit. The students are assessed through homework that requires them to use vocabulary in context and through the summative assessment of the test on The Scarlet Letter. This standard will also be addressed earlier in Unit One, while the students are reading West Side Story. They will have to respond to grammar mini lessons on appositives and absolute phrases using their vocabulary in the context of their writing. Harry R. Noden addresses the importance of teaching writing this way in Image Grammar and even offers metaphors for comparing grammar to art.