The unit takes into account who my students are, 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 co-teaches with me. Therefore, I have to modify my lessons every day. About 10% of all the sophomores, juniors and seniors excel in both writing and reading whereas many of the others have serious difficulty writing one full page.
Within this context, my unit will seek to meet the required curriculum goals. The first of these is to teach the students how to respond to texts critically in order to achieve independence of thought and to build the character of a "real" citizen. The second goal is to build simple and straightforward strategies, both in reading and writing, to enhance their analytical and critical abilities. The same curriculum requests differentiated instruction, which I will achieve 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. I teach them the techniques and they determine those that are most helpful to them. At the beginning of each unit, my students and I frame question that lead us through the assigned texts. This question is important because it helps them understand, analyze, and evaluate the material we cover. It reflects the 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 abstract thinking stage, they are able to explore hypothetical questions, understand individual contributions, discuss and accept different positions, and reflect on the any important issues they encounter.
Furthermore, the curriculum requirements need to be adjusted to the specific goals of my school, which are to enhance the artistic talents of all students who attend our lessons. As a 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. I know from previous experiences that they easily understand difficult concepts if these are presented first in their art, and then identified in 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 and 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 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 taught it too early in the school year, I would not be able to adapt the unit to specific learning needs because I would not know each of my students well. This unit is set for the beginning of the fourth marking period so that I can create appropriate groups. By then I will know which students can do well with the independent reading of the texts, which need exposure to 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 will know the students who can understand, think, interpret, discuss, and write at a more sophisticated or abstract level. They will also have internalized how to respond to an essential question about a literary text, and will be familiar with the Socratic seminar method that I deem pivotal for the development of their skills and thoughts.
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 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 that 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 time.
To conclude, my students belong to a modern 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 through the novel and the history that surrounds it that others have lived similar experiences. Ralph Ellison, in particular, sees and presents his truth of the time period. He has a peculiar vision of how the social, political, and economic forces affect the narrator. My students need to see the connections between a literary text and the world in order to appreciate it and learn from it. I also know that they are particularly interested in some of the issues – racism, stereotyping just to mention some – Ellison's novel presents and that is the "hook" I need to lead them in this journey. At the end of this unit, my students will become better readers and good interpreters of people's thoughts and feelings, and ultimately they will learn to be more tolerant and understanding.