Lesson One- Introducing the Roots of the Revolution
This initial lesson is meant to start out the unit. It will rely heavily on maps and will also contain a journal writing component meant to help students empathize with the Haitian revolutionaries.
Maps and dates are always important to highlight with students in middle school and probably in high school as well. I regularly gauge students’ knowledge and try to engage them in a timeline that will help them better understand the literature and history in relation to their own lives. For example when studying Walt Whitman and the Civil War, I will begin our study with a question such as, “What was the American Civil War and when did it happen?” Many of the answers I get to this sort of question show me that students often don’t have themselves situated in a timeline that will allow them to take a useful perspective. It is important to get students settled into some simple parameters before launching into lessons anchored in history and culture of another era.
For this unit, like so many other topics I have taught, I’ll begin by utilizing a map of the area to be discussed. We will begin with a class discussion, “Who knows anything about Haiti? Who can identify Haiti on the map? Where are we located on the map?” I will show students Haiti in relation to the United States and Western Africa where many of the slaves in the Caribbean originated from.
At this point I will utilize a site we used during the seminar which shows slave voyage routes from West Africa to the Caribbean. (http://www.slavevoyages.org) This site has a host of information on the slave trade in the Caribbean. Teachers should look through the database and choose appropriate material for students to use. Invite students to question and explore the ugly reality of slavery in the Caribbean by starting a class K-W-L chart. “What do we know about Haiti and slavery? What do we want to know and what have we learned?” Keep the chart up in the room and allow students to add to it when they have questions or observations they would like to share with others.
Finally on this initial introductory day for students I will ask them to respond to one of two journal prompts which I will post in the classroom. The journal prompts will lead students to empathize with those suffering through the terrible ordeal of life on a sugar plantation. Possible prompts might be; “Write a first person account of a person being taken from his home and transported to another world. What do you think would be going through that person’s mind as he is transported away from his home?” Another prompt might ask, “What might have been an alternative to slavery in the Caribbean? People chose to kidnap workers from Western Africa and make them slaves. What alternative actions or ideas might have changed the course of history regarding slavery?”
Students will share their responses with partners or in small groups.
Lesson Two- Introduction to the Harlem Renaissance
Having spent a few days on an introduction to Haiti and the Haitian revolutions, this second lesson is meant to come after the reading on Haiti and Toussaint Louverture provided by the Nib cartoon that was mentioned earlier in the unit. After going through the graphic representation of the revolution, students will have a general understanding of what was happening in the Caribbean during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Once again, much like I started the introductory lesson on Haiti, I turn to my wall map for an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance. “What does renaissance mean? Where is Harlem on the map? What do you think Harlem Renaissance means? Lead a brief discussion on the Harlem Renaissance with students and include a video clip to introduce the era to them. A number of short introductory clips are available online, depending on what age group you are working with. I like to use PBS for a lot of my background information. Try https://www.pbs.org/video/i-too-sing-america-harlem-renaissance-100-ty4gr7/ for a short, general clip on the Harlem Renaissance that will give students some background on the era
Explain the term “Great Migration,” which will come up in many resources attempting to explain the Harlem Renaissance, then utilize the clip of Jacob Lawrence himself talking about the importance of the migration to him and his family at https://lawrencemigration.phillipscollection.org.
Let students participate in a Harlem Renaissance internet scavenger hunt before beginning to share more about the wonderful art, music and talent that came out of the era. It’s easy to produce a scavenger hunt on Google docs. Just ask students to define terms like the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Migration. Have them find two musicians, two writers, two artists and to singers from the era, and ask them to sample the art.
Finally, after students have had a chance to explore the Harlem Renaissance on their own, have the class come back together and share their findings, Take a day or two to sample the music, the poetry the dance of the era. Let students hear and read samples from the Harlem Renaissance so that they can truly appreciate that genius that came out of the era.
Lesson Three- The Final Project
The final project in this unit is a large multi-layered one that will take more than a few days to complete. Students will choose a topic, be it someone from their own life, someone from the Harlem Renaissance or other. They will have to formulate interview, or research questions, conduct an interview or conduct research, write up their findings in smaller digestible chunks to accompany the visual representations, actually create the artwork to accompany their findings and finally combine the two in a Jacob Lawrence like piece of art to display with their classmates in an art opening in which you are the coordinator of this wonderful learning experience.
This particular lesson will fall in the middle of the process and is key to the success of the rest of the project. Choosing a topic focus and brainstorming interview or research questions and utilizing the information gathering part of this unit that may be the most challenging for students.
As mentioned earlier in the unit, teacher participation in the creation of the project is key to conveying your expectations to students. It really is showing as opposed to telling, so challenge yourself to participate in the process and get your hands dirty as you join your students on a journey of discovery and creativity. Show students your thought process as you ponder who from your own life you might decide to document in your own panel project. Think about who influenced you most, who had the most impact in your or others’ lives, who overcame life challenges to get what he or she sought in life. If students are having trouble thinking of someone from their own lives, remind them of the characters we met through our study of the Harlem Renaissance; Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Marian Anderson and scores of others who overcame numerous personal and cultural barriers to achieve their goals in life. Set up a parking lot (sheet of chart paper) on the wall and give students sticky notes to put their ideas up on the wall.
Next students should begin to brainstorm the questions that will lead to them making discoveries about their subjects either through interviews or research. Take a moment to discuss the difference between open ended and closed ended questions and have students sit in groups and brainstorm their questions together. After students have had time to work in small groups on brainstorming questions, ask the class to come back together and ask each group to star three or four questions which they thought were especially strong or useful. Get another piece of chart paper out on which to write, “Our best interview Questions.” Call on the groups to share their favorites which you list on the chart paper. After sharing, each group should post their chart paper somewhere in the room.
Finally, ask students to take out their journals and write down ten interview questions that they would like to utilize in their interviewing/research. Allow students to browse the various lists around the room as they find question that will work for them. Students will have dozens of questions to choose from.