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.
Rationale: Unit Plan - To Kill a Mockingbird.doc
The overall theme of this unit will focus on social injustice and racism. The central text is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The focus will encourage students to think critically about how many of the injustices that are found in the novel still occur today. Furthermore, an important distinction can be made between students and the characters in the novel. As they enter ninth grade, students are in somewhat of a transitional period as they begin to move beyond their youth years and closer to maturity. TKAM is also a “coming-of-age” story in which the younger characters must also reflect on their lives as their family becomes involved in issues of injustice and racism. Therefore, many of the activities associated with this unit will allow students to draw on their prior personal knowledge to help them understand issues that come up in the text. In turn, the students’ engagement with the text can help them come to a better understanding of their personal knowledge and experiences (Smagorinsky, 175). These themes are especially relevant within our classroom at Cobble Hill, as it is made up almost entirely of African American and Latino students, some of whom may be able to draw on personal experience and/or observations to enhance a discussion on how these issues can still affect us today.
In her book Teaching for Joy and Justice, Linda Christensen tells us that in her search for relevant texts for her students to read:
“I choose books…that provide examples of ways that people organize for change; I find stories where characters put aside selfish interests for the greater good. I look for literature that helps us clarify our own lives and the choices we make. I select pieces that provoke us to think big thoughts, to argue about ideas that matter, to look at our lives and our choices, to help us understand why things are the way they are and to imagine how they could be different” (165).
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those texts, with themes and characters that do provoke students to think “big thoughts” and argue about ideas that matter such as bullying, tolerance, and having the courage to stand up for what you believe in even if it is unpopular. The novel even discusses the issue of code-switching, which is an extremely relevant topic in our schools today since a large number of students come from many backgrounds, and often speak in a number of dialects. Students have traditionally been told some variation of “If you want to get anywhere you have to learn how to talk properly” (Christensen, 252), and this unit can also serve to highlight language discrimination in such a way that is relevant to students’ lives. Christensen states how it is important for students to “have pride in their heritage language, and the tools to switch between languages if they make that choice” (252), and it would certainly be one of the goals for this unit as well.