The majority of my students, except those in the Advanced Placement class, are still at the concrete-operational stage. They cannot think abstractly and do not understand what can be inferred from a written, or visual text. According to Jean Piaget, the concrete-operational stage occurs when the child is able to solve concrete problems. It is the time when he displays a logic based on a concrete situation he can see, touch or hear. My term goal is to move my students from this initial stage to the formal-operational one in which they are able to solve abstract problems. This means the students can infer, and can develop theories and concerns about the social world surrounding him/her. At this stage the students are able to think hypothetically and reason deductively. The formal-operational thinker can identify general principles or use specific observations to identify a solution or a new theory. This goal cannot be achieved at the end of a single unit since it requires a long and consistent planning path primarily oriented to the formal-operational thinking process. This unit reflects just the beginning of a process that will be consistently reinforced throughout the year.
In planning all my units, I also take into consideration Lev Vygotsky's theory that the teacher has to assist and guide the students in their learning experience. The Department of Education in the state of Connecticut and the New Haven School District follow Vygotsky too. This theory requires continuous scaffolding giving information, prompts, reminders, and allowing the students to gain ownership of their learning. This is particularly important for this unit, which is based on critical thinking, because my students would never follow me, if I did not empower them.
In addition to guiding the students' learning through scaffolding, Vygotsky theorizes that the teacher needs to determine the "zone of proximal development" at the onset of every new learning segment. The zone of proximal development is the level at which a student cannot solve the problem or do things alone because he does not know how. That is the point at which real learning occurs, and when the teacher is needed to guide the student to the solution of the problem. It is only at this level that the learning is directed by the teacher who models appropriate strategies to meet the goal, and guides the students in their use of strategies. It is also important to plan a consistent repetition of the task making students aware of the specific strategies they are using to achieve a degree of autonomy or ability to learn independently.
Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories support all the strategies I implement, but my unit takes into account Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences as well. Gardner's theory states that there are separate abilities, but also confirms that these abilities may not be so separate and that there are connections among them. My students offer a clear example of his theory. I have students with a specific musical talent who have logical-mathematical skills because they are able to handle long chains of reasoning. I have dancers who also have also interpersonal skills since they are able to respond appropriately to the moods, desires, and motivations of other students. I have many students in the AP and Honors classes who have a clear intrapersonal intelligence but also have capacities to perceive the visual-spatial world, or have a particular sensitivity for the meanings of words, sounds, and language in general. The concept of different intelligences is extremely important in teaching and can never be minimized. All individuals are different, and have different and multiple intelligences because they can excel in one or more disciplines or areas.
My unit is based on the cultivation of all these capabilities. As an educator, I feel the responsibility to prepare my students for the community they will live in and in a broader sense for our society. The multiple-intelligences theory allows me to approach my unit goals in a variety of ways. I can spend a significant amount of time on generating ideas or essential questions by asking each student to use what he/she already knows in his/her art in order to make him/her understand how to see details, to infer what the image may refer to, and finally draw conclusion about what they see. Gardner's theory offers me the effective possibility to introduce the principle of differentiation because I will use music, drawing, dance, creative writing, and theater while leading my students to understand how details are relevant in the analysis of a text. In fact, after the initial activity based on the observation and analysis of one school mate in different environments, I intend to apply Gardner's theory to scaffold my students' skills to use external cues for the decoding of a person. My plan is to ask the students who have concluded the opening activity proficiently to select one visual text related to the art each of them studies, the image of a person set in a specific environment, and observe the various details they notice and respond to the essential questions. I will model this activity with the visual text to those students who have not scored at a proficient level for the initial activity before assigning them the homework.