Thursday, January 7, 2016

Managing Humanities

Teaching Humanities has been one of my greatest joys and also one of my greatest challenges.  I've explained before, but just to recap, Humanities is a double-class blending 3rd period English and 5th period U.S. History into a single subject.  In previous years, the class periods were back-to-back and it was essentially a giant block.  Though I no longer have the luxury of an uninterrupted stretch of time, I still do have the luxury of two class periods a day.

This luxury does not come without challenges.  Early on, the units I taught tended to be unbalanced.  The unit leaned too heavily on history, and literature/communication skills were either missing or awkwardly crammed in, or vice versa.  I consistently bit off more than I could chew, assigning a unit essay in addition to history reports or DBQs, debates in addition to presentations.  Inevitably, I'd end up scrapping one or more of the unit assignments due to a lack of time, and even so, I still found myself falling far behind on my grading.

Last year, I finally figured out a rhythm for the class that seemed to work, and this year has only confirmed this to me.

There are 7 units in Humanities class:

Units 1, 3 and 5 are a little bit longer, and culminate in a unit essay that asks the students to draw from Scripture, literature and history to answer an essential question (synthesized from smaller class writings or in-class essays throughout the unit).  Students must also deliver a more traditional presentation, based around one of the themes from the unit.

Additionally, units 1, 3 and 5 feature a longer work of literature.  In Unit 1, we read The Crucible in class (and the AP students read The Scarlet Letter), in Unit 3, we read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (and the AP students read Huckleberry Finn), and in Unit 5, we read The Great Gatsby, along with assorted American poetry.

Units 2, 4, and 6, by contrast, are a bit shorter.  Instead of a unit essay, the students write a DBQ, and instead of a traditional presentation, the students do a debate.  Instead of longer works of literature, we read an assortment of essays, speeches, or excerpts from bigger works in these units.  

Unit 7 ties everything together with a final course essay, final project and final presentation.

This 'every-other' rhythm keeps things fresh, keeps the workload manageable for the students, and keeps the grading manageable for me, while at the same time making sure that the students are developing both writing and presentation skills in every unit.  

The challenge now is to more intentionally assess and provide instruction so that these skills can be deepened in meaningful ways from unit to unit, so that the students are as prepared as they can be for the culminating assessments in unit 7.

All in all, it's a good feeling to have hit this stride!  Having now found this solid foundation, I look forward to building on it more in future years!

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