My goal as the social studies teacher for the High School Credit program at New Haven Adult Education is to guide and facilitate learning. This teaching experience is by far the most challenging and yet the most rewarding of my life. My students live, work and in some cases raise their family in an urban environment. I've taught students of many cultures, mainly African American, Latino and Asian. Some are recent immigrants to the United States, and have difficulties with understanding, reading and writing English. Others have large gaps in their educational experience due to poor attendance.
In recent years the population of adult education has been increasing, and the ages of this increase has been between 16 and 21 years old. My classes are heterogeneously grouped and the reading levels range from third grade to twelfth and beyond. Therefore, for my students to be engaged and vested in their education they must experience some connections to their everyday lives. Their learning must include a variety of strategies to meet many different learning modalities. All of my students have withdrawn from high school and they are considered under-achievers. Besides academic problems my students face a plethora of problems outside of school such as: altercations with the law, probation, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, homelessness and lack of structure in their lives. Unfortunately, many of my students' attitudes toward history is jaded, "history is a done deal," "winners write it," "losers live it without a voice," and "all I need to do is memorize it for a test." Soon they realize what is needed is more than memorization: critical reading and writing skills.
How do we as teachers develop historical thought in our students? Every student enters school with some historical knowledge, often from their family history, vacations to museums and historical sites, and of course the mass media. If you teach in an urban or even rural setting you soon discover that many of your students do not share common experiences such as vacations, access to mass media, or even a family history. Students' thoughts about the past are also shaped by their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This is reflected in the ways they understand people's motives and the importance of certain events in history. As teachers we facilitate historical thinking by guiding our students, hoping they can make the connections concerning how economics, politics, and the forces of society cause people to behave the way they do.
One of the main goals of my classroom is to help students develop the ability to think historically, while at the same time become critical readers. My students have a wide range of reading skills so it is essential that the focus of our studies is learning how to become "strategic readers." When students read they must do the following: construct meaning from print, understand, analyze, and interpret text. Many students have great difficulty understanding expository text in all content areas. They must be reminded to think about their own thinking and ask themselves questions such as "Do I understand it?"
Metacognition allows students to determine if they understand what they are reading. This skill is one which needs to be modeled and practiced. My students need to use strategies before they read, during the reading process, and after reading. This process involves class discussion and writing exercises. These discussions and writing exercises allow the students to become active learners. Some strategies which I use and have found to be helpful in developing good readers are:
Allow students to imagine:
Visualize a scene from their readings, create a graphic, and imagine how it would feel, taste, or smell. Exercises based on imagining place allow the students to set the scene this enhances their reading comprehension. To experience Ibn Battuta's journey by sea use the activity from the Mariners Museum located at www.mariner.org/.
Making connections by using their prior knowledge:
Can the students make any connections from the text to themselves or from one text to another and from the text to the world? Any of these connections allows students to make more sense of their reading. Here, read to the students,
The Travelers of Ibn Battuta,
and then ask students about their travels or any other travelers they may be familiar with.
Can the students recognize cause and effect relationships? Can the students think about what could happen next? Practice with cause and effect, as well as predictions helps the students become better readers As you are reading the story, Traveling Man stop and ask questions, such as, what do you think will happen next?
Clarify the meaning of the text:
Do the students need to re-read, read aloud, take notes, or underline the text? Ask students to complete a summary of what you read to the class.
Through the reading process, students begin to connect what is unfamiliar with the familiar. To help build upon their prior knowledge, teachers must plan and identity what concepts and skills our students need and provide instruction with a wide range of variation in the classroom.
Students in my classroom fall into three categories of learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Each style has its own characteristic as follows:
Visual learners: Examples-use overheads to display images of Africa, the Middle East and different modes of transportation.
1 Like to sit up front in the classroom
2 They are the students who take good notes
3 They enjoy illustrations, paintings cartoons, and videos
Auditory: Examples-ask students to summarize or use the strategy called Round Robin; hand out a worksheet with 12 squares on it and ask them to fill in 3 with information they learned. Next, have them fill in the rest of their worksheet with answers from their classmates. They may not use the same answer twice.
1 They enjoy reading aloud
2 They often verbalize to themselves
3 They sit where they can hear but sometimes seem to not be paying any attention
Kinesthetic: Examples-make jewelry, paint, listen to music, the CD Iberian Garden: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Spain, Vol. 1 would be an example of music Ibn Battuta would have heard on his travels.
1 They need to be active
2 When bored, they have a tendency to move around the classroom
3 They enjoy learning by doing--examples include cooking, construction and art work
4 They enjoy performance--music and drama
To meet the needs and provide opportunities for success and achievement a teacher must understand and identify student's needs. Because of the abilities and the needs of my class, incorporating direct instruction and differentiated instruction has allowed my students to collaborate in their learning experience. This has proven to be a stimulating, and enriching experience for the students. When preparing a unit it is important to consider:
Content--what the students learn
Process--how will they learn, is it flexible, are activities varied
Product--assessment, what did the student understand
Classroom--are directions given clearly, have expectations been defined, are there varied resources.
My curriculum unit will be designed to motivate students and provide excitement in the classroom through activities involving map skills, primary source documents, development of written narratives and short interpretive essays, and analyzing visual arts such as illustrations and paintings.
The unit will begin with students answering questions which focus on reasons why people travel, such as: How do people travel? How long does it take for people to travel from one coast to another? Why do people travel? What do people return home with after they have completed their journey? In order for the teacher to understand how far from home many of our students have traveled the teacher should ask for volunteers to discuss where they have traveled to and what they learned on their travels. This is the point where many teachers discover how isolated some of our students are even if they reside in a large urban center.
During this unit students will be individually assessed and will participate in group projects. The beginning of the unit will include an overview of Ancient Africa and Eurasian history. Students need to know who occupied these areas, what were the peoples' belief systems, their political structure, how were they connected to their neighbors. This is where the class will develop mental maps of the area and investigate the Catalan Map. The website for information regarding the map can be found at
www.henry-davis.com/MAPS/LMwebpages/235mono.html. A series of slides can be purchased from Chicago's Newberry Library bookstore for classroom use, www.newberry.org/smith/slidesets.html.
Landscapes change over a period of time. This transformation can be caused by a number of reasons: political, altered trade routes, climatic, and in some cases religious reasons. Students will be placed in groups and asked to plot out Ibn Battuta's routes of travel (see student bibliography).
The questions students will focus on include: Who was Ibn Battuta and why did he travel? During his travels did he fulfill the Five Pillars of Islam? What was there when Ibn Battuta traveled and what now remains? Why did these landscapes change? Why does this change occur?
As we continue with our journey students will be introduced to reading narratives, primarily by Ibn Battuta. The use of primary sources allows students to get up close and personal. They respond to the person, to how that person responds to their everyday life, how they solve their challenges. The importance of the narrative in a social studies class is the ability of our students to examine and explore people's dreams and experiences in a social and cultural context. Here students will analyze primary source documents by responding to the following questions: How can Ibn Battuta's story reflect the events of his day? What are the differences between what Ibn Battuta writes and what you know about the regions known as Africa and Eurasia? Did he leave out any groups of people you are familiar with? Why? Did Ibn Battuta stereotype any groups of people? What purpose does the narrative serve? Thinking about your own personal experiences with travel can you make any connections between Ibn Battuta's experience and yours? What are the links?
During the unit students will be introduced to Islamic Art and African Trade Beads. When we think of Islamic Art we often think of Calligraphy, Arabesques and Geometric Designs. Each student will create their own geometric design. African beads were used for a number of reasons, such as, for trade, money and even weddings. By investigating beads and art work students can visualize the importance of material culture in societies.
As they are working on their projects we will journey on-line to the National Gallery of Art to view an on-line exhibit of Islamic Art (www.nga.gov\education\index.shtm). After the students have gathered some background knowledge we will continue our journey at the Yale Art Gallery to view Islamic artwork and African artwork. The importance of beads in Africa can serve as a connection to the real world of today.
After my students have completed their own beading and have written the story behind their beading the students will hold a "Beadwear Party." In an effort to enhance community development and subsistence in Uganda the organization, "Bead For Life" was founded, 75% of its profits are returned to Uganda. The profits from our party will be used for food, rent, medicine and school expenses by Ugandan women and connect my students to the continent of Africa. Here they will read primary sources and reflect on the plight of the women in Uganda.
To conclude the unit, students will work in groups and complete a visual route of Ibn Battuta's journey to be placed in the hallway of the school. The students will work together in groups to cover a portion of his journey. The students will share their knowledge by acting as docents at the Ibn Battuta museum and take staff and other classmates on his journey.
My curriculum unit will be designed to motivate students and provide exciting experiences in and out of the classroom. As Plutarch has written, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited."