One of the first and most challenging things to decide is how to structure your units and the year. Most of us are tied to some type of a chronological progression (like Anglo Saxon, to Middle English, to the Elizabethan, to Romanticism). However, we still have control over how to structure our year. Often times it is better to select one area to focus on and fully integrate. Below are several suggestions to consider when restructuring your program next year.
- One of the most exciting and beneficial “trends” in education is project-based learning. Instead of ending each unit with a multiple-choice test or an essay, teachers implementing project-based learning introduces the unit by presenting a project. Throughout the unit, students are given information and tools to help them complete the project. If you’re at a loss for how to embed a project-based approach consider revisiting some of our old posts on end-of-the–unit projects. Another way to tackle this type of approach is to think about knowledge or skills you hope students glean from each unit. Then, think of creative ways they can apply those skills. The key is to make sure the projects are meaningful and not just an opportunity for students to have fun. Hold students accountable by requiring them to cite and use knowledge from the unit. Edutopia provides a great overview of project based learning and this blog “Life in a 21st Century English Class” provides some good points to think through before implementing this approach.
- David Coleman, primary architect of the Common Core State Standards and newly anointed Collegeboard president, keeps saying that to make reading more engaging we need make the students feel like they are detectives. An easy way to generate this type of inquisitive reading is to approach your year from a problem-based perspective. Similar to above, students are faced with a problem they have to solve using their knowledge of the material presented within a unit. In the past we have suggested presenting students with the task of selecting one person who is most deserving of a monument on the National Mall. However, this approach could be made more academic by introducing a unit posing a question that the students have to defend, challenge, or qualify through an essay or debate. This causes them to synthesize information and texts in a more meaningful way.
- Another way you could consider organizing your chronological curriculum is to narrow the scope. Instead of covering Beowulf to The Importance of Being Earnest determine a theme that will be explored through the entire year. For example, a common theme might be to analyze the definition of a man. Organizing a year thematically gives focus to the year and makes the learning more meaningful. This allows students to more critically analyze the varying views of the theme and develop their own opinion. However, if you fear redundancy, another way to thematically organize the year is to examine the various types of conflict. One unit will read and study pieces that represent the man v. man conflict. Another unit would examine the varied arguments about man v. self. This will produce a similar effect but in a much more condensed form.
The most important part is for you to make a conscientious decision and fully think through how you can effectively implement it. All of the above approaches work, but there is no sure-fire answer. Unfortunately, because of our different curriculums, different schools, and different set of students, we can’t tell you how to structure your year. Instead, think about what works best for you and your curricular parameters.