Blow it up?

Curriculum meetings for teachers tend to be focused on the little things. But I was in for a pleasant surprise at a recent meeting with other middle school English teachers. It started small, talking about sixth grade teachers wanting language arts and reading in a 90 minute block. We extended the idea to 7th and 8th grade, and began to think about the possibility of having extended time with our students.

When ideas start, the negatives often start to pop up. What would we do with the current schedule? How could we find the time? Block scheduling is no new idea, but nobody in our group had experience with it.

But I’m not here to advocate for block scheduling. I’m here to support something that may not even have a name yet. If we are going to start making some changes, let’s start making some changes. The out-dated education system that we find ourselves in right now needs help.

During out meeting we looked an article entitled “Everything’s a Conversation: Reading Away Isolation” by Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010’s Teacher of the Year. She discussed her method of using multiple types of texts in different ways. First there is the appetizer, or the context texts, that access prior knowledge. These can be films, poems, articles, or anything that gets students interested in the unit. The fulcrum text serves as the pivot point, so it is usually something of book length; let’s call it the main course. These can be used to push students in their learning and offer a challenge. Finally there are texture texts, which tend to be shorter, like an article that puts the unit into an authentic perspective. This would be like the spices of the meal.

If we are going to blow up the system, let’s add new classes or combine the classes we have in order to create more authentic learning.  Why stop there?  If we are going to use fulcrum texts and support them with appetizers and spices, shouldn’t that be done with all subjects? In combination with all subjects? We could be exploring some of science and history’s most important questions with this type of school day.

Picture half of a school day spent with students working on an in-depth project with a variety of texts to support student learning. Now THAT would make for a unit of study.