Crystalline waters, exotic plants and flowers, lush vegetation, tropical paradise! These are terms frequently used to describe the Caribbean islands that stretch from Florida to the coastland of South America. This region in the Western Hemisphere is more than a vacation paradise. This interdisciplinary unit is a continuation of the story of the African Diaspora with a focus on the Caribbean islands. Lessons are designed for middle school students in New Haven, Connecticut, many of whom are of Caribbean heritage. I teach at an Arts Magnet school, therefore, the arts and academics will be integrated. Students will be allowed to express themselves in various forms. As a class, we will learn about the Caribbean region’s geography, history, and culture mainly by exploring visual arts. For the execution of a major portion of this unit, students will examine selections from the works of two American artists, Winslow Homer and Jacob Lawrence, as well as Caribbean works seen on Internet sites. Lessons are geared for four seventh or eighth grade classes with an average of twenty-five students in each class. There will be twelve classes; each will run for approximately fifty minutes. Modifications to the lesson plans may be made, as necessary, based on the needs of the students. Teachers may teach the entire unit or use segments of the unit as they seem fit.
The idea for this unit came from heterogeneously grouped students in my seventh grade English class while we were studying the African Diaspora. I usually ask students to evaluate the unit and offer suggestions for improvement should I teach the lesson again. Many students, especially those of African descent, expressed the idea of studying “
” given that they have been learning about the contributions of African Americans since their elementary years. We cannot study the influence of Africans in the Americas without looking at the Africans who came from the ancestral homeland and were shipped to the Caribbean islands to be subjected to the atrocities of slavery. Just like African Americans, these people managed to carve out a life and culture for themselves in spite of the hardships they endured. Consequently, this unit might also be used as a supplement for African American studies.
The unit will be implemented by using various formats to accommodate different learning styles. All other teachers who work with these students will be included within my overall lesson plans. Some may be involved for just one lesson, while others will incorporate a few lessons related to examining the extent of Caribbean influence in the creative and performing arts. The teachers of African and Hip-Hop dance will discuss the history of rhythm and dance of the Caribbean and their influence in today’s pop culture in the United States. The Band teacher will incorporate the Caribbean influence in music in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, and other Caribbean islands.
Some teachers might want to place the focus on academics as students study the Caribbean islands. I have included in the narrative some information and suggestions that the Language Arts and Social Studies teachers may use as students explore the topics from a more historical viewpoint. The Social Studies component of the lesson will require students to learn how islands are formed; they will also engage in map reading skills. Students will be required to locate places on a map of the Caribbean area and research the geography, history, and culture of the region. The acquired information will be later incorporated into writing an I-Search Paper and in the creation of a story (historical fiction). In order to make it more engaging, I will encourage students to include some of their teachers, classmates, and relatives as characters in these stories. Both Social Studies and Language Arts teachers will collaborate during the entire execution of this curriculum unit. The Language Arts teacher will review the elements of effective note-taking and the Social Studies teacher will assist students in researching the island nations with a primary focus on the impact of Europe on these countries. Literacy requires that students make connection with the text in order to gain meaning. As students conduct their research, they will constantly compare and contrast the similarities and differences of their knowledge of the United States and what they are learning about the Caribbean region.
I had mentioned that a segment of this unit will require students to write a final paper in the form of an I-Search paper. I prefer this format because it allows the students to improve on their ability to take notes, paraphrase and analyze. This also minimizes our struggle against plagiarism. I could not do this without the assistance of the Technology Resource and Library Media teachers. The former will bookmark websites on how to conduct research, summarize, and paraphrase. I will conduct mini-lessons as the class visits the respective websites and work on various activities. In the initial stage of their research, students may work in pairs, if they desire. The Library Media teacher will select books related to the Caribbean islands and any other material that will help the students to write a good research paper. Students will check out books, use reference materials, and obtain ideas for their I-Search paper. The
will be a useful tool as students write their I-Search paper on a Caribbean island of their choice. The introduction will state what they know about the island and what
they want answered as they write the paper. They may also state the reason for selecting that particular island; maybe their grandparents or a friend came from that island nation. Maybe they just wanted to learn about a place of which they know very little or absolutely nothing. Next, students will describe the process they used to obtain their answers and then report their
. It is so important to remind students that there are available sources other than the Internet. They may peruse library books or interview people, which could include classmates who could offer helpful suggestions on how to obtain additional information. The final portion of the I-Search Paper will allow students to express their feelings as the research progressed. Did they require constant encouragement from their parents? Did a peer steer them in the right direction to get information? Did they find this information useful or how will they use this information
later in life? In this section, students may describe how they processed the information gathered and created meaning based on their experiences.