My unit, "The Great War: How, When, and Why?" is being created for sophomore students at the James Hillhouse High School. Using demographics from my current classes, I am able to envision what the potential class for this unit would look like. There is roughly an even mix of male and female students who are predominantly Hispanic or black. By state standards, as well as district averages, the student body is traditionally low-achieving. Standardized test scores generally come in between the 30
percentile (depending on the test and subject). Hillhouse also has a fairly large proportion of ESL (English as a second language) and immigrant students. In order to successfully execute my unit, it is going to have to be thoroughly differentiated to take into account student strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds, interests and limitations.
When developing my unit, I looked first and foremost at the required curriculum for sophomore English language arts classes. The curriculum focuses predominantly on how teenagers make choices – preferably good choices. This is an easy starting point because it gives my unit a definitive focus, without narrowing the scope of potential learning by too much. From there, I looked at gaps in the curriculum. While the curriculum allows for plenty of quality literature throughout the year, little of it is complete; it focuses on excerpts as opposed to full texts. Given the issues my students have with sticking with a book, I felt this was a poor decision on the part of the curriculum designers and left the students at a disadvantage when it came to tenacity. Therefore, I knew I wanted a text of considerable length to be the focus of my unit. Finding a sizeable piece of literature that teaches students about making good decisions did not limit my field of search by very much.
The next thing I examined was what other deficits the curriculum created in the students education. Talking to my grade-level partners, I discovered that the Great War – World War One – is only briefly mentioned in world history courses as an introduction to World War Two. I decided then and there that I wanted the focus of my unit to be
All Quiet on the Western Front
and World War One. Both the text and the war give plenty of opportunities to study not only broad spectrums of world relations, but also small, inter- and intrapersonal relationships.
Given that English language arts is not simply English literature, I intend for my students to look at a variety of communicative art forms, both written and otherwise. I want my students to be able to fully explore the art of language. As far as the written media are concerned, I would like to use poetry, speeches, diary excerpts, letters, and news reports to help complement and supplement my students knowledge and understanding of the role of the individual in the war; these media will allow students to explore the different methods of communicating written thought in various ways. I would also like my students to experience other popular media forms; political cartoons, bond and recruitment posters, and popular music I see as being essential to a grounded and well-rounded understanding of the role of the individual. It is imperative that students understand that communication is not simply
t is said, but
it is said and using nonverbal and artistic forms of communication helps showcase a broad range of communicative styles. Other potential media include documentaries and movies. Using different media will also help many of my students who have grown weary of English courses that focus solely on books and articles.
Over the course of my first year teaching, I realized that this generation is (more or less) incapable of either sitting still or focusing on anything that does not command their individual interest and attention. Being an introvert, this has never been a problem for me and, as a teacher, I have difficulty moving past my own interests to cater to my students interests and needs. From this, I decided that to best reach each of my students, I would need to attempt to work each of Gardners multiple intelligences - logical-mathematical, spatial, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential - into the unit. For many students, this will make literature more accessible to them given that they can relate it to their own preferences, interests, and specialties.
The essential question I intend to address throughout this unit is: "How and why do I learn to make good decisions – ones that positively affect myself and others?" As teenagers, many of my students are of the age that they are starting to realize that their choices, both large and small, have not only immediate, but lasting effects and ramifications. In the novel
All Quiet on the Western Front
, each of the characters have important choices and decisions that alter their lives momentarily and in the long-term. By exploring the choices the characters make within the book and in accompanying media, it is my hope that my students will learn to be more studious and conscientious regarding their own decisions in life.
As part of a long-term project during the unit, in order to "connect" my students to the war and to illustrate the importance of personal choice during the war, I will assign each of my students a different country to research that countrys role during the war. This offers a prime opportunity for differentiation; low-level students could be assigned the major countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, United States, etc.) whereas high-level students could be assigned more low-profile, high-difficulty countries. In the process of this research, I would like for my students to examine the causes of the countrys involvement in the war, what their involvement was like, what their gains/losses were as a result of the war, and how the war affected the country long-term (did it lead to economic gains or turmoil, how did the political spectrum change in this country after the war, did any other wars occur in this country as a result of the outcomes of World War One). It is my hope that students can see how the individual choices and actions of people (soldiers, civilians, politicians, etc.) come together to form large effects for many people.
In connection with the research project, I would like the students to eventually "assume the role" of the country that they have researched. As a (partial) culmination of the unit, the students will participate in a mock-UN like conference where they can argue for their countrys wants, needs, and restitutions as a result of their participation in the war. As part of this research project, students will need to conduct research not only on their countrys role in the war, but also the depth of their role (how deserving they are of their different demands – or undeserving as the case may be), their potential contributions to the global economy after the war (what do they offer the world by way of work force, goods, innovation, etc), what they need in order to repair their economy, who their greatest antagonists were during the war (who should be rebuilding their economy or whose economy should they be rebuilding), etc.
Smaller lessons I will conduct throughout the unit include an in-depth study into motivation. In order to facilitate this lesson, we will looks at wartime propaganda, speeches, newscasts, and recruitment and bond posters. This will provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn and experience logos, pathos and ethos. As proof of "mastery," at the end of this lesson, students can demonstrate their understanding of the different motivational appeals by creating their own works (art, poetry, music, etc) that appeal to one of the rhetorics. As a potential differentiation for this unit, I can stretch my higher-level students by introducing the rhetorics of kairos (time and place) and telos (purpose). This lesson will assist students in the persuasive writing aspect of the required curriculum.
Other lessons will address and reinforce other skills necessary for high school students: research and citation skills; evaluation of perspectives and authorities; developing written ideas; analysis of characters, events, and points of view; analysis of various accounts of a subject told in different media; synthesis of old and new skills; delineation and evaluation of the arguments and specific claims in a text; integration of multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats; and other skills required at both the state and federal level.