The unit takes into account who my students are as well as the curriculum requirements and the characteristics of my school. Demographically, my students come from a wide range of backgrounds: 64% are African-Americans, 10 % are White, and 26% are Hispanics. I have two students who are not native and do not have an ESL teacher in the school. Another group of about twenty-two students has various special needs. They are included in all my classes and the Special Education teacher does not co-teach with me. Therefore, I have to modify my lessons every day. About 10% of all the juniors and seniors excel in both writing and reading whereas many of the others have serious difficulty writing one full page. This interesting situation turns out to be extremely positive for my students because I can see effective improvements of both the struggling and proficient students between the beginning and the end of the school year.
My students' specific interests and learning levels need to meet the required curriculum goals too. All Juniors and of course the AP students too are to develop an understanding and an appreciation of the variety of texts we analyze. The curriculum requires students to respond to these texts critically and individually in order to achieve a true independence of thought and to build the character of a "real" citizen. It remarks the students need to acquire simple and straightforward strategies both in reading and writing to enhance their abilities to analyze and criticize any texts. The same curriculum requests differentiated instruction I implement by using different strategies tailored to the specific student's needs.
At the same time, my students need to acquire the ability to select the strategies they want to pursue for the interpretation and analysis of the various literary texts. This means that I teach them various techniques and they have to determine those that are easier or more helpful to them. At the beginning of each unit, my students and I determine an essential question that will lead us through the various texts. This essential question is important because it helps them understand, analyze, and evaluate the material we cover. It is also a steady reference for the promotion of formal-operational thinking identified by Piaget as the stage when mental tasks involve abstract thinking and coordination of a number of variables.
When the students reach this stage, they explore hypothetical questions, explore and understand individual contributions, discuss and accept different positions, and reflect on the social life of any human being.
Furthermore, the curriculum requirements need to be adjusted to the specific goals of my school that are to enhance and cultivate the artistic talents of all students who attend our lessons. As direct consequence, each unit must have interdisciplinary connections to dance, music, theater, painting, photography, and videography. The students' talents and their interests play a basic role by helping them understand, interpret, synthesize, and evaluate. In fact, I know from previous experiences that they easily understand difficult concepts if these concepts are presented and studied first in their art, and then identified and analyzed in literary texts. For instance, when I explain the concept of "audience" and its importance in writing, I require each student to come to class with a sample from their art class music, visual arts, drawing, dance, and theater. By looking at the specific details and by discussing the artist's choices, my students see whom the artist addresses, and how he/she accomplishes it. At this point, the transition to the written text is easier because each student has understood the meaning and the importance of audience. I only have to teach them the literary devices and conventions the writer uses to address his/her audience. By following their artistic interests, I have an opportunity to accomplish tasks that are normally considered "boring."
Moreover in planning my unit, I need to carefully consider when to teach it if I want it to be successful. If I planned it too early in the school year, I would not be able to adapt the unit to the specific learning needs because I would not know each of my students and their specific learning needs well. This unit is set for the beginning of the second marking period so I can create appropriate groups. I know the students who can do well with the independent reading of the texts, those who need to be exposed to the visual texts (movies) first and then pass to the analysis of excerpts whose length varies according to the student's learning and attention levels. I know the students who can understand, think, interpret, discuss, and write at a more sophisticated or abstract level. They have also internalized how to respond to an essential question about a literary text, and have already learned the Socratic seminar method that I deem pivotal for the development of their skills and thoughts.
The students' backgrounds, the curriculum requirements, and their artistic interests are challenged by the lack of two other important skills: thinking and writing. The great majority of my students spend just few seconds to think. They do not know where to begin, what to think and why they should ever stop their frenetic life to think. When it comes to writing, they do not have ideas; they do not know what to write and how to write. They respond with just a few words or few lines because they do not see the details either in the page they read or in an ordinary event. I also notice they do not spend more than few seconds reading the document and their reading does not reach its second or third line most of the times.
To conclude, my students belong to a modern and technological society in which everything is fast. They tend to reject the study of literary texts because they think they are boring and do not connect to their lives. My challenge is to show them how literature reflects issues, values, and themes that are still present in our society. They need to see the connections between a literary text and their world in order to appreciate it. This is the reason to plan each unit around their interest and appropriate zone of proximal development that is "the area where the child cannot solve the problem alone, but can be successful under adult guidance or in collaboration with more advanced peers."
When I clearly determine this, I can have an effective learning segment with a high percentage of proficiency. My students' lives constantly revolve around the discovery of who their "friend" is and should be. This theme recurs continuously in their life and it is the constant object of their interest, and gives me the opportunity to overcome the problem of lack of motivation and to make learning real and not "boring." Moreover, by learning to be attentive observers of today's reality, they can become not only good readers in literature but also good interpreters of people's thoughts and feelings, and ultimately achieve that ability that will help them be more tolerant and understanding.