This video talks about the current state of education in the United States today and how it has destroyed creativity.
This is going to be a quick post. There has been a lot going on at work and home, but I wanted to post something to keep this idea going.
Here’s an outline of what I would do on day one of teaching the novel.
I would only be able to do this exercise if I was sure that their history / social studies teacher had already reviewed the material pertaining to life in the German-occupied territories during World War II. Assuming I verified that, then, I would start the session with the bell ringer and then do a debrief. I would ask for any volunteers that wanted to share their writing with the rest of the class and write notes on an easel pad. I would do this for each class I had that day, then post the easel paper on the wall or a bulletin board, so that everyone could see what the classes came up with.
Then, I would show them the novel’s cover. I’d ask them to consider what the cover tells them about the story. I would ask them to write their observations as a group on one sheet of paper and collect those sheets. From the results, I would like to create a Wordle I could share with them. Why? Why not?
I’d ask the question, “What draws us to certain books?” and after the students answer, I would give my responses, particularly about why I chose this book to read. By that time, I think class would be over.
Teachers: Have you ever tried to teach a novel without reading it first? Well, I’m going to try to, but since I’m not teaching at the moment, I will have to pretend. Visualization exercises are always good for lesson planning, right?
The novel I have chosen is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck. I heard about this novel as I was listening to the audio version of the biography of Winston Churchill called The Last Lion (Manchester & Reid, 2012). Apparently, Churchill was quite pleased with the novel and found it inspirational. I have this quote that is similar to what Manchester and Reid said about the book in their work.
While some American critics faulted the novel for its sympathetic portrayals of Nazi soldiers, the book was widely popular in Europe. The Moon is Down was reprinted in French and distributed by the resistance fighters of the Maquis. These were books printed under the very noses of the Gestapo. It was also banned in Italy, where the penalty for reading the book was death.
Yet its message resonated. The plot device of the Mayor’s request for explosives to be air dropped so that the townsfolk can wreck the mine and the railroad — a sabotage campaign that he understands in advance will lead to his death — was noticed by Winston Churchill himself. After reading The Moon Is Down, Churchill ordered the Special Operations Executive to explore this idea and it became the basis of Operation Braddock, a British sabotage and propaganda campaign. Not bad for a mere work of fiction, turned out by a man who had never lived through the events he described (Dutchman6, 2009).
Because it inspired Churchill, I think this novel is a great complement to any studies of World War II in history classes. I would (if I were teaching) coordinate the teaching of the novel with the time in which the students are studying WWII. I would not read it beforehand, however. I’ve been chomping at the bit, as they say, since I first got the book, but wanted to read it as I write these posts so that my lesson is more authentic.
I believe that a big part of teaching is modeling the behavior and practices that we think will best serve our students as they embark on adult life. Therefore, I would like to model what I do when I read a novel for the first time. For instance, I’d like to be able to authentically state why I think this novel is going to be good (I almost wrote “killer”) and what prompted me to order it. Then, I would like to explore this novel with the class without the benefit of reading it first, so we can discover its beauty together. I think the conversations that come out of that reading would be terrific. Sure, I would make mistakes, make bad predictions, all that kind of stuff. But isn’t that all part of reading and learning to read well?
So, in the next post, I will put a lesson plan into place that introduces the novel and its context. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I think I will enjoy writing them.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb
The other day, during an internal training session, the question arose, “How can we ensure that students are learning all they are supposed to know when there is not enough time in the school year to teach them everything?” Then, someone asked, “Should school be year-round?” My response to that is one you might hear from many teachers: “No.” In this post, I will share why I think that it is not necessary to lengthen the school year.
In high school, we had the mandatory Social Studies classes that included American and World history. Invariably, we would never cover more than three-quarters of the content. Somehow, our country’s history ended with World War I or II. I do not recall learning about the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the 60s, etc. World history would end way before that. We spent so much time on Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc., that it was hard for the teacher to get to contemporary world history. We memorized dates, facts, and figures for a test and then we forgot them. We did not talk about how to “do history.”
What I mean is that we never learned how to view events through a historian’s lens. How do historians find all this information? How do they uncover the secrets people didn’t set out to keep, but buried anyway? How do anthropologists, sociologists, and historians work together to interpret their findings? How do they learn how to fish?
Yes, fish. If I were a history teacher (which had been my dream from the age of 14 till the age of 21), I think I would start with the historian’s perspective. I would make learning the content the context in which the students learned those skills. I would flip the classroom, something that is easy to do today, to ask students to learn content at home and interrogate the content in class. I would spend more time teaching kids how to find information than lecturing kids about information. I would spend more time teaching kids how to construct knowledge independently and in groups.
If the focus is off of content coverage and onto skill development, it is my opinion that the school year can stay the length it is. Perhaps more kids would become interested in history with this method and study history on their own. Who knows?
The same is true with English, which is the subject in which I am certified. Instead of spending weeks on a novel, perhaps it is better to start by examining a writer’s process and a critic’s process. How do critics arrive at their conclusion about the novel’s content, theme, structure, character development, etc.? What are the criteria by which they judge a written work? Put that within the context of a great piece of literature. Let the students choose from a short list of novels and teach them to interrogate the text. Truly, what are they going to remember more: the content of the novel or the skills they practiced to understand the work, the author’s intent, and the theme? Why passively read the novel aloud when you could spend class time learning those skills in context? Which will get them further in life: the content or the skills? I say the skills. And if we focus on the skills, wrap them in content, and work on those in class, every day, I believe we do not have to lengthen the school year.
Kids can go fishing instead.