Friday, May 1, 2015

Tying it all together...

It was a bittersweet thing, introducing our final unit of the year in both my English and my Humanities classes this past week.

Bitter, because it's been a joyful year, rich in learning and growth for not only my students, but for me as well, and part of me wishes it wouldn't end.
Sweet, because I am looking forward to reading the essays, seeing the projects, and listening to the presentations that will mark the end of my classes for this year.

As I've repeated numerous times over the past year in this blog, and as I've repeated numerous times in class, the theme for my courses has been "Becoming People of Justice".  This "bigger picture" has focused my planning and teaching this year; has reined me in when I've been tempted to get carried away with details or on tangents; has provided a goal for my students and me to look ahead to.

I had told the students what their final assignments would be on the class syllabus I emailed to them before the first day of class, and now the destination does not seem so far off as it did then.  We've reached the doorstep.

This is the final unit: "Becoming People of Justice"
No surprises.
No drastic last-minute changes of plan.
This is where we've been going since the year began.

Our essential questions are:
1) What does it mean to be a person of justice?
2) What have I learned this year?
3) Where should I begin in fighting injustice?

The last five weeks of class will be dedicated to the following tasks, which will allow the students to answer these questions, and to demonstrate competency in the understandings and skills that they have learned in class this year.  Here are the brief descriptions of each that I included on the unit guide I sent out:

Becoming People of Justice—Essay:
Address the course question, “What does it mean to be a person of justice?” in an essay of 2000 words (give or take roughly 500 words).  Essay must include at least 5 literary references, at least 5 historical references, at least 5 Scripture references, one current event (your chosen comps topic) and connections to your own life and experience.

Theme Project:
Select one of our three major course themes ("Humanity’s Quest for Meaning"; "The Experience of the Hyphen-American (Diversity and Oppression)"; "Becoming People of Justice").  Create a project that demonstrates what you now understand about that theme.  Projects could be visual—a painting, a sculpture, a video, a dance; or audible—a poem, a song, a dramatic monologue.  The rules are simple: to choose the theme that resonated most with you and to give that theme the very best that your talents have to offer.  This is a celebration of learning!

Social Studies Objective Portfolio:
This will be your way of demonstrating your ultimate understanding of our social studies objectives from this year.  Just as you did with the science and technology objective/learning targets in the unit we just finished, reflect on the rest of the objectives, citing all relevant evidence and reflecting on each learning target.  Your understandings score will be based on how well you demonstrate your understanding of the standard as a whole—having plentiful evidence and articulating what the evidence means.

Culminating Events Presentation:
This will be a two-part presentation, looking back and then looking ahead:
1) Present your project.  If it was a song, poem, video, spoken-word or dance piece, this is your opportunity to perform!  If it was a visual project, this is your opportunity to share and explain it to your classmates.  This will serve as a look back and where you've come from over the course of the year.
2) Comps Soapbox speech.  Your objective is simple: tell your classmates why they should care about the topic you’ve chosen.  Your weapons?  Logos, ethos and pathos.  So, research thoroughly, research credibly and think of ways to make the issue come alive in the hearts of your classmates!  This will serve as a look ahead to where you are going; to the journey you are about to embark upon for your Senior year.

You will have a maximum of 10 minutes in which to do your presentation, so you will need to be economical with your time!

As I write this post, emails are already coming in from students deciding what they will research for their Senior Comprehensives project.  I'm already receiving questions about possible theses for the justice essay.   I'm hearing creative proposals for the final project.

Each question echoes in my mind with two familiar beats: Bitter. Sweet. Bitter. Sweet.

But the word is "Bittersweet" for a reason--the order is important.  While it may be "bitter" at first, difficult and even sad, it is "sweet" that has the last say, the feeling of blessing and joy that remains in the end.

So even as I get ready to say goodbye to the Class of 2016, the more powerful feeling is one of gratitude for the year we've had together, and excitement for what these students will accomplish, not only in the final weeks of my class, but far beyond.

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