Freedom to Choose
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
I’d like to take you on a journey, one where I have combined my knowledge of gifted learners with curriculum and added a sprinkle (or more) of my Teacher-Librarian magic. I’m not actually sure where this blog post is going to go, but as one of my favourite bloggers Pernille Ripp on a podcast with another of my favourite podcasters (Jennifer Gonzalez) once said, “it needs to be out of my head so that I can step back and reflect on it” (https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/stop-killing-reading/).
I’m collaborating with the teacher of a Year 7 class of very bright students, but also working with targeted students in other Year 7 classes. In Term 1, we worked on developing narratives inspired by an image (Harris Burdick anyone?). Students wrote some amazing narratives and shared them via our Learning Management System (LMS). Then along came COVID-19. As it loomed we started planning for At Home Learning. An opportunity to develop an online unit delivered via our LMS was borne.
Term 2’s set novel for Year 7 was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I collaborated with classroom teachers, looking at taking the dystopian genre further and wondering if it could be linked with other subjects. My teacher-librarian brain also wanted to inspire students to read more and to think about banned books - The Giver has been on banned book lists many times (see http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/decade2019 ).
Added to this was our need to upskill students in online etiquette. Whilst these Y7 students are approximately eleven years old, we know that many of them already have active social media accounts (mainly Instagram and Snapchat) and also spend large amounts of time on gaming sites where there they can also converse with each other. Social media involves likes, comments, interconnections with others, and sharing of user-generated content (Greenhow & Lewin, 2015). Unfortunately, it has also emerged that whilst they are considered “digital natives” who have been given e-safety lessons from their early years, let’s just say that some of them truly have not absorbed these lessons.
My aims were to:
· link students with the big picture ideas
· merge learning from Term 2 English & SOSE together – and prepare students for their Media unit in Term 3
· encourage students to explore if/how the ideas/themes/actions of dystopian novels correspond with ‘real life’ events – historically or present day
· encourage reading for pleasure (the number of students who do not read every day is alarming to me)
· produce a non-assessable, non-compulsory unit that motivates students to explore concepts, develop empathy and respond creatively
· use the school intra-web to scaffold and support students to practice their online social media skills
· have all learning requirements easily accessible online and easily downloadable for those with unreliable internet (at home learning due to COVID).
So, this is what I developed:
PowerPoint One - exploring intellectual freedom, censorship, rewriting history, power, religion v science, political power e.g. Nazism, Cultural Revolution (linked with suggested novels). Each page had multiple hyperlinks (closely vetted) that students could explore further if these concepts interested them.
PowerPoint Two - “How does this effect school students in 2020?” This was aimed at encouraging students to understand that they too experience censorship, propaganda, and control of access to ideas. It covered Banned Books, linked to censorship, representation and diversity, and looked at adult rights and responsibilities. Again, there were many hyperlinks to books, authors, and further discussion.
A Student Task Menu – based on several models of curriculum design for gifted students.
A recommended reading list – each book checked on ReadPlus for suitability for the age group. This was really important to me, as this group of students were 11 years old. Personally, I was not comfortable recommending books that dealt with themes which are more suited to older students with more social-emotional maturity, nor was I willing to attract the fallout if I recommended books that were not appropriate for the age group of these students. Another useful source may be https://www.edutopia.org/article/22-ya-novels-help-students-process-pandemic-or-forget-it-bit
A teacher resources area – including a matching game of banned books and the reasons for their banning. This was used in class just before we moved into At Home Learning and proved very popular with students as a Tuning In activity.
All of this was then uploaded to our LMS in four separate pages.
The student work page was the most difficult to develop – each page involved targeting permissions carefully. Students who wished to upload their work were given editing rights, all other Year 7 students were given viewing and commenting rights. We discussed etiquette, and that commenting was “live”; however, that as administrator, I was able to read every comment. Students also discussed what to do if they were unhappy/uncomfortable with anyone else’s comments.
That’s when the magic happened.
Students absolutely thrived on choice of involvement, and choice of activity. They willingly explored concepts deeply, utilising many of the hyperlinks included. Students voluntarily created their own responses to their learning using the choice menu. Some collaborated, some worked solo. I really wish I could share them with you. Of particular excitement to me was a student with dyslexia collaborating with a previously very quiet EAL student to produce a graphic novel of astounding quality. Another student who only engaged during Maths/Science classes wrote a “highly articulate and thoughtful discussion of the power of literature and the surrounding issue of censorship” (his teacher’s words). Many students created multiple products – one later told me that she’d spent many happy hours learning and creating, and wished more of school learning could be like this.
But how does this connect with “Youth, Popular Culture and Texts”?
Every part of this unit involved links between books, movies, You Tube videos, and television shows intertwined. Students were seen as active participants. They were given access to tools aimed at helping them to explore and critique their environment, but ultimately choosing their own learning adventure and sharing their creations with peers and adults.
Have you used your learning to develop new silo-busting units? Did COVID inspire you to try new ways of assisting students to access new learning? Do you have any ideas/questions/comments? I'm happy to share what I've done, and would love to see your ideas too. Please contact me via comments.