While reading the headline of a front–page news story, we already have some educated assumptions about what the article will say because we can infer. While watching an emotional movie, we can make connections to the main character without much effort. While watching a political debate, we can use the evidence we have gathered to make an educated decision on which candidate to vote for. But what if our high school students cannot perform these tasks, which seem rudimentary for us? Once our students have reached high school and have not mastered these literacy skills, how do we teach them in a way that makes sense?
I teach under–credited and overage "juniors" and "seniors" at New Horizons School for Higher Achievement in New Haven, Connecticut. My students have been placed in our alternative high school for reasons of truancy, criminal records (court–ordered students), childcare issues, and serious behavior issues. Many do not have parental involvement in their lives, so the state is their guardian, or they live on their own. Many of them live in poverty–ridden and violence induced neighborhoods and find school to be their only "safe–haven." Most all students fall way below their reading/writing grade levels, so schoolwork is difficult and frustrating. My job is to teach the New Haven junior and senior English curriculum at an appropriate level, so none of my students feel over– or under–challenged, which is quite difficult when I have a class of fifteen students and reading/writing levels vary from "grade 2" through "post–high school." Another huge challenge is their truancy issues. In my class of fifteen I may only see the same three students every other day, so the units and lessons I plan cannot span over a couple days because I will only be forced to play "catch–up" each day with the students who walk into the classroom after three days of being absent. It is vital I am mindful of these issues and plan accordingly, so my students can positively benefit from their education.
My students are in need of building upon their literacy skills. With poor reading and comprehension levels in my classroom, it is difficult to read short stories, poems, novels, or analyze a film. My students (juniors and seniors) are close to graduation. Most do not go on to earn a higher level of education, so I feel solely responsible for what my students absorb in their last couple of years of education. My job is to prepare my students the best I can for what their future holds: jobs, parenthood, and living as productive citizens. I believe if I am not able to teach my students these key literacy skills, I have failed. This unit will help me help them to feel more confident about being confronted with different media (i.e. novels, movies, commercials, advertisements, newspapers, etc.).
What my students do not realize is how good they actually are at making inferences, drawing conclusions, and making connections. These are their daily survival skills. Most all of my students live in dangerous neighborhoods, so they are forced to analyze each situation they find themselves in and figure out what to do. For example, if a female student of mine is walking down the street and sees a group of men with dark clothing and hoods over their heads, that student will infer something dangerous is about to happen and draw the conclusion that she must quickly get out of the situation. My students also are good at making connections with their peers—it is how they figure out who they can befriend and who they have no desire to speak to. My job is to point out the skills my students already have and bring those skills into the classroom when dealing with different media.
My unit "Using High Interest Artwork to Make Observations, Inferences, and Connections" will consist of multiple lessons based on making inferences, using information, drawing conclusions, making connections, and using evidence. Each literacy skill will be incorporated into multiple lessons, and each lesson will focus on a piece of artwork.