Debunking the Myth of the American West
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The students will be writing an essay during this unit. The essay will include some research using a variety of resources I keep in my classroom and some that can be found on the Internet. It is important for students to be proficient in the use of technology. Students don't often get a chance to work with primary sources, so I want to incorporate them into the research project. We will be reading some primary source material in class as well, but they must find one other piece of primary source material on their own. The reason for this is that what makes history real to us are stories of the real people living the history. Abstract facts and events become tangible; it is almost like we can hold history in our hand and touch it. Students will pick either one of the writers, artists, or topics we have covered and expand on their lives, art, themes, events, etc. Originally when writing this unit I wanted to teach them the broad history of the West, which would have taken up my entire year. Now, I will let the students themselves explore this history a piece at a time and if I were to put all their papers together, a more complete historical record would exist. This is exactly the point. I will give students a grading rubric to use, so they can get the best grade possible on the first try. I have a grading policy that requires students to rewrite until they get an A, and if they choose not to do this, they get an F. I have found this to be a great success. Students learn at their own pace, and this allows them to do so while working towards mastery. This policy also tells the students that I know they have the ability to get an A. For some students they may only need one draft to get the A, and some may take seven drafts. I want them to know how to write a good essay, not how to quit with a C. Some possible topics for the essays could be, but are not limited to: conquest, race, the environment, complexity of the West, women of the West, the Hollywood myth of the West, Japanese Internment Camps, Frederic Remington, Frederick Jackson Turner, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Ian Frazier, Susan Lee Johnson, Mary Murphy, Sherman Alexie, Howard Lamar, Alex Nemerov, John Ford, Jane Ash Poitras, Jesse Cooday, Ernie Pepion, Lance Belanger, Jean LaMarr, Frank Bigbear Jr., David Avalos, Judy Baca, James Luna, Richard Ray, Norval Morrisseau… to name a few.
Oral Presentation of the Researched Essay
As we all know, students are in need of oral communication skills; unfortunately most students don't get enough opportunities to sharpen these skills. When I assign oral presentations, many students get that deer-caught-in-headlights-look. By assigning more oral presentations, they will hopefully become more comfortable standing in front of a group of people and talking. Based on their essays, students will convert the information into a five-minute presentation. This way the class will learn a more complete history of the West. I will give students a grading rubric to follow so they will know what I expect of them. Students will use note cards for the context of the presentation - I do not want them simply reading their essay aloud. They will also need visual material for the class, and this can be in the form of handouts, posters, or Power Point overheads.
Making of their own myth- Art Project
Students will also do an art project based on the content in the curriculum. Students seem to be able to interact with art differently than with literature. Students really respond to art. Art is an especially effective medium to use to teach students with poor reading skills. I can still strengthen their analytical and critical thinking skills without adding the skill of reading to the mix. I highly recommend that you not only study it, but also utilize art activities. Since the scholarly endeavor of the unit is to uncover the myths of Western history and debunk them, the students will uncover a myth, or stereotype, from their life and rewrite the myth. Students will first draft their myth on a blank piece of notebook or copy paper. Then using large poster board and either good markers or acrylic paints, the students will on one side of the poster board illustrate what their myth looks like and on the other side, show the truth. Students must learn how to face and deal with adversity and the shortsightedness of others. In order to have a healthy relationship with ourselves, we often need to deal with and let go of the demons in our past. This art project is a safe way to do that. Hopefully, by expressing the falsity of the stereotype laid upon the students, they can have some sort of closure on the event.
Class discussions are invaluable, and I usually have some sort of prompt the kids write about for a few minutes before the discussion. This enables them to gather their thoughts. Students who have difficulty speaking in front of others often find this helpful. I also find that having a prompt, whether it is a picture or a quote, allows the students to become engaged immediately in the day's task. Often they come in with many other things on their mind, and these "intos", as many professionals call them, get the students thinking about my class and the subject at hand. Examples of some prompts would be: "…They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it." - James Baldwin; "In this case, the danger, in the minds of most White Americans, is the loss of their identity." -James Baldwin from "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation"; "I have no separate feeling about being an American Citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong." - Zora Neale Hurston. Discussion will take place every day, and except for the first few days of teaching the history components, they will take up a large part of the class period.
CAPT is also an important part of the curriculum. The test assesses students' abilities to think and express those thoughts. On the Response to Literature section, students are to read a short story and answer thought-provoking questions. Virtually all of my lessons can apply to CAPT, because critical thinking is an objective everyday. This way, I don't have to keep pushing the test down the students' throat. They often don't realize we're doing a CAPT activity, and this is important not only so the students don't get sick of hearing the word CAPT, but also because the thinking and writing skills are the key to any good class, test or no test. Questions asked during discussion and on assignments help students think on all levels of thinking: Reacting, Interpreting, Connecting, and Evaluating - or RICE. I use this RICE method, formally and informally, all the time. Not only is it important for students to think on all of these levels, it is equally important for them to be able to express these thought both orally and in writing.