We’re currently finishing up a unit, and beginning to look at what’s next. Several weeks ago one of my current students was talking to a former student. He was telling her about a Dr. Seuss unit we did in English five, or so, years ago.
The next day she came to school and said, “Hey, why don’t we get to do Dr. Seuss? Something a bit lighter would be nice. We’ve studied the Holocaust, human rights issues, and now slavery. Could we do something that’s not so heavy?”
Sure. So today the idea of the Seuss unit was mentioned. Many liked that idea, a few wondered about other options. Well, we’ve looked at Christmas literature in the past too. A few others liked that idea. But one student wasn’t sold on either.
“Could we do something entirely different? Something that you haven’t done before?”
Sure. What are you thinking?
She thought and then said, “What about a movie unit? Could we study movies of different genres and then analyze them for themes and other different features? Is that possible?”
I explained with the English curriculum we have more flexibility than with chemistry or biology. In those subjects, I’m specifically told what content I need to teach. However, with English it’s mostly skill based, although it does stipulate how many novels, short stories, poems, etc. we need to include.
I further explained the five “strands” that we use in English: reading, writing, listening, viewing & representing, and speaking, and that there are multiple objectives for each strand.
So it is possible. I asked them to talk a little bit more about what it might look like. My students brainstormed various possibilities. Maybe dividing into groups to show clips from various genres. Each group would be responsible to facilitate the discussion around the analysis. Maybe creating a digital space to post movie critiques, and other classrooms could join us. And of course, there would be writing involved too.
After hearing a number of ideas, and seeing a plan beginning to formulate one of my students looked at me and said, ” Can you help us create a unit plan for this?” Wow. Never in a million years did I think my students would ever say those words. Another student remarked, “Yeah, I only know how to teach swimming lessons.”
I looked at him and said, “Well, it’s not that much different.” When he gets in the pool he doesn’t just splash around for 30 minutes. He knows exactly what he’s going in there to accomplish. Not only that, he knows what it looks like when someone has mastered the skill and when someone isn’t even close. He agreed. Curriculum & teaching is pretty much that.
So that’s where we’re starting tomorrow. I plan to bring our curricular objectives, with the objectives we’ve already met highlighted, and we’ll decide which objectives this unit will cover. We’ll also decide what it looks like when they’ve been met, and how they’ll show their learning. And, together, my students & I will create our next unit.
How crazy is that? This inquiry stuff is amazing. I’ve noticed this semester that my students have taken responsibility for their learning in ways I never dreamed possible, to the point where they’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out the details — stuff I normally do. They’re invested, and they have every right to be.