I start this lesson, which takes place after students have completed their respective novels, by asking the students to take 4 minutes to free write about teaching units. I ask them to think about a unit that a teacher has implemented in the classroom, all of the components that were included, and the pros and cons of each within the unit. After four minutes, I have the table groups discuss what they wrote about for the next six minutes, building on one another’s ideas and thoughts. Oftentimes, I believe that students do not really think much about the education they receive in such terms. In getting them to do so, I hope to build a larger capacity of understanding and appreciation for their teachers and their efforts, as well as for education in general. I try to establish and maintain a culture where we celebrate what education is and the means by which we obtain it. As I prepare my students for college and career readiness, I encourage them to take a more active role in the process, and this writing and discussion activity helps to start that thought process.
After the groups have discussed for 5-6 minutes, I ask the groups to come together as I facilitate a whole-class discussion. I randomly select a member of each of the groups to share 2-3 items they discussed. After the student shares, I ask a follow-up question or two, guiding them more toward the process we will be following in the project I assign during this day. Students typically share things relating to concepts they are unsure about, such as why a teacher takes a particular approach, or why a teacher selects one activity over another. Some of the kids share things related to how the teacher has picked one “main thing” and then has all the other items connect to that. To be honest, most of the students, from one class to another, have some interesting and unique perspectives to share.
Now that we have established a common understanding of the various components a teacher includes in a unit of study, and some ideas as to why he or she makes such decisions, we move into the actual project introduction. I start by passing out the Literature Circle Culminating Project Guidelines sheet to each student, so they have it to read along as I read a section aloud and explain it. I explain that I looked at all of the past novel units I have taught and determined the items, activities, or assignments that most commonly were included.
The items included in this unit include at least 3 vocabulary development activities, a Close reading assignment of informational text that connects to the assigned novel, 2 types of writing assignments (minimum) with an exemplar, a 5-week calendar, a study guide, and a unit exam. I also make sure to point out some additional activities they could consider including as well. I like to plant that seed, and am often so impressed by the ideas the kids come up with. I have an important rule in my class that I ask students to take and make a part of their lives both inside and outside of school: You can ALWAYS do more, but you can NEVER do less.
All documents the students create require the blank copy and an answer key.
After I have made sure the students genuinely understand the overall project, I let them work together to assign tasks and jobs with tasks. I tell them that they must review the project assignment components on the assignment sheet, and then commit to the different aspects of the project that each of the group's members will work on. I make the students submit the document to me, with each job clearly labeled and defined, and with each group member's signature on the bottom of the document acknowledging that they know the overall expectations and the particular portions they are personally responsible for.
As the groups begin their discussions, I move throughout them to listen in on the process, offering feedback when necessary. I have it set up so that no class period has more than five total groups, which definitely helps this portion of the day run smoothly for me. I position the groups so as to provide as much distance between them as I can in the classroom. I believe this keeps them from being distracted by the discussions of other groups, and also keeps them from simply following the process of another group. I purposely do not tell the groups how to determine roles, or how to best discuss the process, because I want them to figure that out for themselves, together. The only real "push" I continually give the groups is to be very careful about the workload each member is taking on. I want them to aim for this work to be shared equally among the members, and know from first hand experience that it can quickly and easily become inequitable, even with good intentions. As groups bring me their documents, I look over the dispersal of tasks for any signs of inequity. When I find any, I make sure to tell the groups what warning signs stood out to me, and then I ask them to go back and discuss further with that in mind.