Being able to design and implement an effective unit plan is absolutely essential to any prospective teacher. My philosophy involves teaching the classics, as well as introducing our culturally diverse students to a variety of young adult literature. I believe that by being exposed to a combination of the two, students will find something relevant, and that speaks to them as individuals regardsless of their interests, preferences, and/or beliefs. In his book Teaching English by Design, Peter Smagorinsky discusses the importance of approaching a unit plan from a constructivist point of view, which has guided my teaching toward a more creative, student-centered curriculum in which students are active participants, while avoiding the type of pre-packaged, teacher-centered activities that cause students to check out.
Here are a few of the unit plans I have developed for use in a high school classroom. I have attached the units for both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hunger Games. The unit for Othello was constructed while student teaching, and it was done over a six-week period. Some of the essential questions for the unit included:
- How might a person's surroundings affect their personality?
- How do the effects of racism affect a person's self-esteem?
- Is there such a thing as "motiveless malignity?"
This unit culminated with our students' participation in the New York City Student Shakespeare Festival, where they decided to explore different forms of hatred: racism, sexism, classism, and jealousy and how these are tragic flaws of humanity / human nature.
I feel that some of Shakespeare’s plays get more attention in the classroom than others. Works like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth are frequently found in the unit plans of high school teachers across the country. The themes and characters in those works are highly accessible to students, and they can certainly make connections to their own lives. Just as accessible, but often overlooked in those same classrooms is Othello. It too contains themes and characters that are extremely relevant to the lives of students, as well as to the world they live in. Issues such as race, jealousy, gender, and the nature of evil permeate throughout the text. In fact, in could be argued that race is the central theme of the play, which makes it a touchy subject for some. However, this is exactly what could make Othello an even more relevant work to our racially diverse students.