The unit will start with an activity where the students will reflect and respond to an essential question: What is your definition of democracy? I also expect them to come up with the usual answer that democracy means freedom, equality or even equal economic opportunities or chances. At this point they will determine which aspect of this definition is the most important and why it is so relevant to them. I will also ask them to write a detailed example where America has failed to maintain the promised ideal of democracy. They will have to analyze their individual example closely and determine the possible cause or causes of that failure. Of course, this pre-reading activity will tap into their prior-knowledge because they can reflect, synthesize and evaluate their “reality.” It will place them in Vygosky’s zone of proximal development since their motivation will be aroused to the point they need the teacher’s guide to learn more.
After this initial activity all the documents we will study, will follow a precise structure to help my students understand, analyze, discuss, synthesize and evaluate. In fact, I will require them to do the first reading of the written document as homework and to determine the meaning of all the unknown words by either using the context or the dictionary. The first close reading will focus on the process of highlighting whatever strikes their attention and annotating the text in the margin. Since I will consider different levels for each class, I will include modifications to adjust the activity to the various learning needs. The lowest levels will only have to write brief reflections or questions whereas the most advanced group will also have to identify the thesis statement, main ideas, facts, opinions, tone, purpose, and other features that are relevant in the text. The second close reading of the document will require the writing of a response in which they will discuss their first reactions, initial understanding, critical stance or discussion of specific features in the documents either identified by the students themselves or specifically chosen by me. For those students who are at a more advanced level, their first response to the documents will analyze the subject, the purpose, the author’s thesis and the tone. A thorough discussion will follow with continuous connections to present day reality in America. A second, more detailed analytical response will follow. The lowest groups of students will evaluate the author’s thesis, purpose and tone, whereas the advanced ones will continue to analyze specific features I will determine. At the end of each studied document, I will ask the students to write a synthesis of the author’s perspective. The length and depth of this assignment will vary according to the students’ levels.
Similarly, the visual documents - election paintings by George Caleb Bingham - will be studied following a well-determined structure. Our first activity will be to learn analyzing a visual by looking at it, making sense, and responding in writing. This means they will be asked to describe the details they see in the picture as well as the feeling aroused by the same visual. I will require them to respond to the following questions: what do you see in this election painting? This will be immediately followed by: what details don’t you see but we would expect to see? Why did the author decide not to paint those missing details? These texts will also offer the opportunity to learn discussing and writing about the image with a specific language based upon perception. It will include terms as focal point, figure-ground contrast, repetition or similarity (shape and size), and color contrast whenever this is possible. I will suggest questions like: what do you think are the key elements or features of the image? How do they contribute to what you see? Look for elements that are similar for size, shape or color, and explain the effects of those elements. Does this image suggest you a story? What does this image tell you about democracy? I will also require my students to compare and contrast the visuals to each other and to the texts covered in this unit. Similarly, the movie
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
by F. Capra will be compared and contrasted to the written documents. The unit will be concluded with the writing of a document: a synthesis essay in which each student will be required to take a precise position about how democracy is part of our own life. They will have to document their thesis with facts or details from the various visual and written documents examined and studied in the present unit. I will also require them to prepare a presentation with Power Point slides. The students with special needs will conclude the unit with the Power Point presentation only.