I read a tweet by Liz Reilly last night which led me to a blog she is writing about her adventures in a new unit she is teaching her students, and so I was inspired to post to my own blog.
I, too, am venturing into new territory with my students as we embark on what I have titled Scholar Circles. The loose ideas is that “Scholar’s Circles” are essentially Literature Circles, but these “circles” are populated by Advanced Placement senior English students.
For years I have taught the same 5-6 texts, feeling often like I am dragging my students through each work. I have had the hunch that many of them did not read the assigned reading and was often discouraged. More recently, several students shared that assigned reading has, in ways, killed the joy they once had while reading books. This is my attempt to help them and me discover what happens when I loosen up what I would call my fairly traditional approach to teaching literature.
This coincides with my reading of Richard M. Cash’s Advancing Differentiation and George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset (as well as Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide and others) which both suggest giving students more choice and more control over their learning among other things.
We have finished Heart of Darkness as a whole class with a broad unit focus of “understanding.” Students wrote essential questions on the topic of understanding and considered to what extent Conrad’s novel answered their questions. At the same time, we were focusing on writing analysis of Conrad’s prose and generally trying to decipher his complex, ambiguous text.
The novels Liz and I have chosen for our Scholar Circles unit match nicely with Conrad’s novel, addressing similar concerns and questions about the topics of human understanding, investigating our relationships to one another, and the role of power in human and cultural relationships.
We have a loose plan. Novels are to be completed by early December. There are 4 scheduled days of book discussion where students will meet in groups to discuss their reading. They have divided up their books and agreed on a reading schedule. We have given students a list of standards as their learning goals. It is up to them to decide how they will evidence their “achievement” of those standards and to show their learning and growth through a choice of assignments.
Through this unit, I am also testing the waters of moving from my role as a didactic teacher to one who functions more as a coach and encourager.
It is with many nerves but a lot of faith in my students that I begin this unit. I know I am doing what research and clear thinking suggests is best for students, but I hope I have structured it in a way that be meaningful for students. I have tried to make it clear that I am learning along side them, that this is a “new thing” for me, that we figure it out as we go; but this is all a little unnerving to them (they’ve said so) and to me.