I redesigned an end-of-the-year unit for my Junior class over the drama A Raisin in the Sun. The purpose for the redesign was to increase the impact of the unit in light of the chaos in the world today. The text deals with discrimination and stereotyping. Recognizing the potential influence this text could have on my students, I wanted to delve a bit deeper, searching for ways to create ripples of impact outside of the four walls of my classroom. By requiring students to create questionnaires to distribute to community members regarding issues of race, gender, and economic inequalities, constructive conversations can be had around dinner tables and at social gatherings that could positively impact our society. Having difficult discussions can create a dialogue that could positively impact a nation…it has to start somewhere, so why not here?!?
One of the approaches to education discussed in one of my classes was Constructionism. This is the idea that students create mental models to help make sense of the world around them. It’s a form of discovery that is student-centered, affording learners the freedom to create in relation to the content taught. Often times, we think of constructionism only taking place in Science labs or some of the Trades classes offered at school. Well, I’m here to tell you that this type of learning can actually take place in the English classroom, as well. We may have to be a little more creative, or think outside of the box, but Constructionism can take place in practically every classroom.
What I love the most about this method of learning is the freedom it offers the students. When they truly get into the project, you can see their eyes light up, their excitement increase, and their voices get louder. 🙂 This is SO exciting to watch. Discussions that follow as students present their end products last a bit longer, become a bit more animated, and tend to take on a different form than simply the same old written responses to prompts. I’ve used this in creating body biographies of characters in novels or in the construction of personal logos by students. It’s interesting how students tend to take on a greater sense of ownership and pride when presenting their work.
Attached is a picture of one of the models a student made when creating a shelter out of sticks and grass. Freshman reading Lord of the Flies learned very quickly just how challenging building a shelter from outdoor resources really is.
As I was working on redesigning a unit of study for a text my students read at the end of the year, it struck me at how I might have been cheating my students regarding the richness of the content through the years. Since this text is situated at the very end of the year, my students are eager to complete the tasks and leave for summer break. However, after really evaluating what I do in regards to this unit, I recognized the need to dig much deeper into the core of what this drama is about and how these same ideas hold such value and relevancy over 50 years later.
The text which rounds off my Junior English classes’ year is “A Raisin in the Sun.” It’s a drama that focuses on dreams unrealized, as well as bigotry, racism, and prejudice. Recognizing that the majority of my students are white and can’t truly understand how offensive and prevalent this is, I realized I really needed to carve out extra time to examine these issues in greater detail. Even as I write this, civil unrest is brewing across our nation, reminding me of the need for my students to grasp the brevity of what is happening. I’m hoping that this text can act as a bridge to difficult conversations that need to be discussed in order for there to be constructive conversations regarding the unifying of our nation.
My redesign of this unit has evolved throughout the course of the last few months and seems to be taking shape. As I work to create meaning for my students, I’ve incorporated an opportunity for them to create a survey which addresses questions of prejudice within our community. In order for my students to really invest in this final unit of study, I’m having them design the survey, determining what are appropriate questions to ask (with a little guidance if necessary). Once the students have created their google surveys, they will distribute them to at least 5 people outside of the classroom. Once these surveys have been completed by their designated participants, the students will collect the data, analyze it for meaning, and present their findings to the class using a form of technology other than Power point. My desire is that this unit will be one that influences my students to recognize prejudice when they see it in order to speak up for what is right, or at the very least, change their own mindsets to ones that appreciate differences and embrace cultures of all types.