Monday, September 7, 2009

Learning to Understand

The entire faculty at my school is studying Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe this year. While the ideas are not completely new to me, it is an interesting exercise in trying to get the whole school thinking on the same page. I find that every year I am rethinking my classes and approaches and making small adjustments. Using web 2.0 technologies both in the classroom and to build my own personal learning network has certainly prompted and encouraged much of this thinking.

This year my American Literature course is getting a bit of an overhaul. I'm starting the year with the contemporary novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Students are studying it in cooperative learning groups, recording their work on a wiki, and then sharing their insights with the whole class. Working with such a contemporary novel has been an interesting challenge for my students and myself. While they do not need to decode language, the structure of the plot and the message are mysteries to them at this point. I am trying hard not to give them ready answers and instead encouraging them to see this overarching idea:
There is no right answer to what the text is about. But that doesn't mean that all answers are equal. There may be no right answers, but some answers are better than others, and figuring our what that means and how it can be so is one of your major challenges. (Grant 143)
Working in their own literature circles, with their peers, I encourage them to be persistent and not give up on a discussion question too quickly but instead to "consider, propose, test, question, criticize, and verify" (129). In developing their own theories about the literature and seeing these develop and change throughout their reading of the novel, I hope to instill the understanding that they make their own meaning from the literature that they read which is based on their own skills and prior experiences and not solely reliant on an expert opinion about the literature. If they can then transfer this confidence in their own reading and theory making to our next unit, a study of Puritan writings, I'll be ecstatic!

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