This is in lieu of Teach it Tuesday yesterday because I forgot to take pictures and then got carried away with what I want to tell you… Typical!
Since January, I have been thinking about Language Arts, how I have taught it, and what I want to do differently. I decided that I don’t like teaching units such as “short stories” or “poetry.” Instead I want to focus on broader themes, with the concepts interspersed throughout – more to come on my overall vision for Language Arts this summer as it (hopefully!) comes together.
As luck would have it, I have found a great planning partner at my current school who shares this vision for language arts units. For the past few weeks I’ve been working with our school librarian on a unit about social media and technology, specifically how companies are using it for advertising and solicitation. The main unit question is, “When companies use social media and technology to influence us, is it empowering or exploiting?”
To start the unit off we looked at the question and talked about where we started with our opinions, most grade eights answering that it is empowering because it gives them a louder voice than they would otherwise have.
We have been accessing further information on our topic through a variety of sources, including:
– Read aloud novel (Feed by M.T. Anderson, carefully edited while I read and some sections skipped over)
– Book club novels (more informal than lit circles)
– Various articles, video, and radio clips
– Persuasive writing research (through Ebsco’s Canadian Points of View)
Throughout the unit students are reading, watching and listening to the variety of different sources and then responding through discussions, journal entries, persuasive essay, and debate.
Here are some of my favourite things we’ve done so far:
I won’t go into too much detail here because for the most part it is the standard persuasive essay format (strong thesis statements, points and counterpoints, etc.). I selected five topics for students to choose from for their research and then if any students came up with their own topic instead I worked with them to make sure it worked with our unit. The topics are electronic surveillance, social networking sites, media bias, identity theft, and censorship. (We used the Canadian Points of View site which shows an overview for each topic.) From there I have a couple of students looking at social media and body image, and one student looking into how social media sharing has effected companies such as SeaWorld through viral documentaries. They each reasearched both sides of the topic and wrote a thesis statement for each, then shared in AB partners about their topic and their own opinion, followed by an essay outline, and now we are starting on the rough drafts. I am impressed with how engaged they are in their topics and I can’t wait to see how they turn out!
All the students had a choice of seven books to read for book club and if they finish their book they can read another book club book or move on to one of the individual books that have been selected to fit in with the theme. I love the energy and excitement so many kids have when they get to choose a book they haven’t read yet that they’ve been dying to read! (Hunger Games and Divergent are two of the choices).
As they finish their books they are posting on our Book Club board a short summary (three points) on the book. They get to choose the colour for their summary (green = I like it, yellow = it was okay, red = didn’t like it) and then they fill it out and stick it up.
The goal behind this assignment was to have students tie in some of the concepts from the articles and videos, as well as to think deeply about the unit question and how their thinking is changing. To be honest, this was more of a check in for me as to how they are learning and what is interesting but it has been my favourite assignment so far. These amazing grade 8’s have just astounded me with their thinking and I’m so impressed with how most of them have connected to the topic.
Here are a few quotes from the journal articles:
About connecting the novels to the unit question – “You have to think about who is benefitting from the exploitation. Is it only the companies or government, or is everyone getting some sort of advantage?”
On how the unit question applies – “Honestly, I think that the unit question is a very good one for today’s everyday life.”
And about how his or her thinking about the question has changed: “I believe now that social media empowers us in order to exploit us.”
Is it just me or are these students just inspiring? I can’t believe how lucky I am to do this job!
What are you teaching right now that has you inspired?
Any creative language arts unit ideas?