I’m about to do a dangerous thing: post a document long before it’s “ready.” It is not even close, and I think–that’s where it should be. A finished document would mean there is no room for growth or adaptation; it’s a sketch. Flipping my thinking around about the silo type of units, students would be better served if we took a gravitational, or centrifugal force idea. While we’re spinning, we stay connected and use metacognition to be cognizant of what draws us in. Choices are key, here, with a map for guidance. In essence, every UBD and essential questions demand a variety of genres and modes of texts. We think about big issues in a kaleidoscope way, not linear. I started thinking about units I’ve created in the past, and some of the theme topics, and came up with this document:
Nothing should be off limits: essays, short stories, podcasts, films, novels, poetry, letters, texts, tweets, news, classics and modern re-tellings, pop culture, graphic novels, series: sources for texts and media are bordering on the infinite. If you can write it or read it, it belongs.
Oh, and for the curated list, a wonderful collection of essays that may come in handy:
Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.
And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”
In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.
But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.
Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:
Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled. (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!
Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.
Here is the other side:
All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.
As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions?
Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.
What was the first movie you ever saw? What was the one that made you cry? Which one terrified you so much you nearly ran, or did run, out of the theatre, or kept the lights on all night? Films and books/texts are not in conflict with one another, they act as pillars on a strong brain and heart. Our instructional time is eroded by so many other agendas, however, that when we’re mentally drained, and the desire to just pop in a movie overwhelms us, our good admin remind us that students have plenty of time to guzzle large doses of media. So bear with me here: this isn’t about popping in Mulan when you have nothing else planned. (Although I absolve you: I love Mulan.) And I guess I can make a strong case for Lion King (Hamlet), Cinderella (good chance to explain about blended families and friction), the Little Mermaid and how tragic fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen wrote are sanitized by Disney, and why. I could go on. And we all know that seldom is the movie as good as the book. That’s because they’re different species from the same phylum. Those are grand discussions in and of themselves.
But this is about those little films that get us to understand themes. Ideas. Beliefs. Movements. I’ll try to post as many as I have collected here, but am sure to leave some out. If you find some good ones, please click on the post and add a comment.
This past week, and current week, I’m elbow-deep in crafting lessons, mini-units, and all good things in the PSWP ELA/SS CCSS course. Though much of it is a review for me, it’s how I learn–by relearning, adapting, and modifying instruction.
In May, I was reflecting on all that is required of me and instruction in any given moment, and the quality professional development I’ve sought and been offered. I do not turn down opportunities to learn and grow, and it’s hard for me to turn off my brain. I created a lesson plan template largely based on meeting those challenges: gradual release, learning targets, success criteria, performance tasks, the new teacher evaluation cycle (TPEP), and adding assessment and assessment reflection so I can have precise, informed conversations about learning. Next, I plan on creating a document to help track student information on specific standards. Yes, this is the stuff I dream about.
Now, the question will be, will I use it to its full capacity, or become so busy much gets lost in the flood? I’ve promised myself for some of the big concepts, yes–use it as a teacher reflection tool. I am a believer in strong prep work.
Question for my colleagues: what are must-haves on your lesson plan formats?