In the last four years, I have been teaching Language Arts in Cooperative Arts and Humanities, New Haven, Connecticut. My school is a public magnet school for visual arts. This is a relevant factor because all the students who attend it come from the Greater New Haven area and choose this school because they want to develop their specific artistic interests. I feel honored to teach in such a challenging environment where each student has a unique and talented approach to my subject matter. It is also fascinating since I have the opportunity to engage my students' arts interests and accomplish tasks that are normally considered "boring." Being the only teacher of English for all the juniors gives me the opportunity to instill a real sense of community and acceptance for the individual in spite of our remarkable diversities. Co-op is also a "magnet" school and this is another important component as we experiment the real concept of diversity and all its connected complications.
Demographically, my students come from all possible backgrounds - 49% African-Americans, 35 % White and 16% Hispanics. I have a group of twenty students who are not native and do not have an ESL teacher in the school. Another group of about fifteen students with various special needs is usually placed in one class with the presence of the Special Education teacher who co-teaches and works with all students irrespective of their abilities or special needs. This is particularly valuable because it helps overcome the barriers of diversity. About ten percent of all the juniors excel in both writing and reading. All my classes are good examples of the "melting pot" pattern with students belonging to all the various groups. This combination has been proving very effective. In fact, I constantly see substantial improvements for the weakest students as well as an effective overcoming of the fear of diversity.
At the beginning of the school year, my students and I determine an overarching essential question, which will lead us through the various units. This essential question is important because it helps them understand the material we cover. It is also a steady reference for the promotion of concrete-operational thinking to accept the self and the others, to explore and understand the individual contribution, and to improve the social life of any human being. For my juniors this overarching essential question is: What is the author's theory? What is mine?
Our curriculum requires all students the completion of a research paper in various subjects as essential task. This is something that my students do not want or do not like to do and many of them prefer a low grade to doing a genuine project. To engage them and to eventually develop a mastery of the required skills are a true challenge in my school. This unit has to be planned only after taking into account prior assessments and after addressing the students' understanding, learning levels and interest. Timing is also another important factor for its failure or success. If I planned it too early in the school year, I would not be able to use the deep knowledge I have acquired of each of my students, and their complete trust, so I can overcome their spontaneous opposition and rejection of the proposed topic. Due to these considerations, I plan this unit at the beginning of the fourth marking period because I know that my students will do anything I will ask them by then. They have internalized the overarching essential question and they can use their artistic skills to complete the most "boring" task, as they would put it.
In a new techno-savvy world, students want to be "travelers" searching for new "worlds." They thrive for activities no one else has ever attempted. They want to be acknowledged as the first to determine something different. They love to have different positions or different interpretations. Since they are artistically gifted, they are intuitive and they are attracted by texts which are informational but are presented in the form of a creative journal. These are the essential conditions to plan a unit which is basically informational. Of course, my plan has to take into consideration my students' giftedness and creativity and their characteristic approach to learning.
In planning my unit, the need for differentiated instruction plays an essential role. I think it is the key for closing the gap because each student is so different and unique that a standard, linear approach would be a complete failure. The theory of multiple intelligences suggests that the individual has strengths and weaknesses in one or several areas. Gardner's multiple intelligence theory suggests the cultivation of desired capabilities. This means each student has a very specific skill. This skill needs to be valued because it helps the student reinforce his/her self-esteem with a direct improvement of the student's learning. Consequently, I will focus on the desired capabilities of each student together with a varied and personalized approach. Following the district's requirements, which I share, my goal is to engage the students in all the stages of the critical thinking process developed by the Bloom's Taxonomy throughout the entire process.