by Margaret Roth
Written December 14, 2011 at 9:11pm in the JHU SOE Building, Homewood Campus, Baltimore, MD
There are many things that I have learned from working through the complete process of designing and creating a complete unit from thought to actualization. I have personally learned that I am a driving force in a group and that I tend to manipulate others into the things that I want them to do. I will thank my outdoor leader training for that, however I also realize that it is something that I have to use with care and caution so that I do not discount or miss the opportunity to learn from the thoughts and processing of others. On the flip side of that and in addition to the fact that one of my group mates and I were both working with middle school students, we choose this novel and this age group because it is the novel that I will be working with when I teach my full thirty days of lessons in April. Therefore, I welcomed being a driving force because it was designed with my students in mind, the resources available at my school, and the novel that I would be working with at that time.
Through this process I was reminded several things about working in groups. To use a strategy and summarize - it sucks at times. I found myself having to do a significant about of extra work because one of the group members was unable to self-manage and keep up with the work and their personality is attracted to the technique of procrastination. I will by no means say that I was perfect, if I were to do it again, I would like to start earlier and involve myself in more research, however I find that I was driven to be even more on top of my responsibilities because of the group member who was consistently falling behind. I believe that this experience was extremely reflective for me, and was my responsibility alone. I choose my group mates knowing their strong points and their flaws and this caused me to deeply reflect on how group works and assigned groups impact the learning of students. I feel that our experience was an exemplary model of what can often happen in groups of our students themselves. They work with their friends, they have fun, they fight, but ultimately, at least for us, we all cared and we wanted to get it right. I know that as I leave this assignment and as I look forward to tweaking it and altering it prior to its implementation in April, I will carry the thoughts of group dynamics with. However, I will leave the students with their group choices for it is an integral part of learning how to collaborate and function under the pressure and expectations of others.
Frustrations aside, I really loved working on this project and immersing myself in such an emotionally involved group of people whose passion shines through in every element of their work. We never for a moment thought that we were just doing this as an assignment, we never treated it as just an assignment. I truly hope that shines through in our final product, I know that it will shine through as inspiration for me as I design unit plans in my future. When I implement these lessons in April, my group mates will be by my side for any of the days they can come join me, my door will always be open to the collaboration and ingenuity of my friends and my colleagues.
Before we created this unit plan, I was in all honesty completely unsure of what the process would look like. I never seen a unit plan really let alone thought about what would go into the creation of one. I initially approached it as though I was writing a very long term paper, we identified our theme of identity and then I started outlining. Then, I realized that this was the entirely wrong way to approach designing a unit plan. I look back now and think why would I ever plan something in the exact way that most students dread. I know well enough that the idea, form, and function of an object, whether physical or conceptual, are intertwined too deeply to separate, thus this was surely the wrong approach. However, we kept a few elements of this outline system. Each week focuses on a literary element and a thematic element. This is probably the best thing that we did to ensure continuity and effective scaffolding throughout our unit plan as a whole. Now that the plan has been completed, I am fairly certain that I will never not teach in my own classroom through a thematic unit plan design. I believe that it is so essential for students and teacher alike to have one major element that everything is connected to, I’d like to consider this immersive learning. And with all the endless distractions - emotional, physical, psychological, that our students are usually immersed in, it is essential for us as educators to provide an environment that plays to that distraction and fully drowns everyone involved so that we can learn to breathe in a new way. I will see how I feel about this after I actually teach these lessons and this unit plan as a whole.
The process of thinking and designing a thematic unit on the theme of identity for middle school students took a lot of personal reflection and a process of returning and trying to capture the feelings I myself had as a middle school student. I remember these years more clearly than high school in an extremely emotional way. I feel that we truly attempted to harness those experiences good and bad that our students face on a constructive and cognitive level. For myself, I learned that the theme of identity is endless, that the topic itself is so extensive that it can only be captured in snipets, snipets specific to each person it touches. I think that is why it was so important for us to focus on arts integration in the way that we did and I hope for evidence of its success. When I started working on this plan I thought that I knew what identity was and I thought that I could define it, I thought that I knew who I was myself. However, that is the key, that this process forced me to question and attempt to both identity and redefine my identity simultaneously while I worked. This unit plan has and will continue to help me to consider this as a process - one where both teacher and students are learning together and are learning about each other. Remembering that in my future is invaluable and is something that will surely have a lasting impact on my teaching, for I will never fully define myself and my own identity.
Again, there are many things that I have learned from working through the complete process of designing and creating a complete unit from thought to actualization. Ultimately, the most important thing that I learned from this process, I suppose from the assignment directly, is that I still have the capacity to be driven enough to truly care about the content and completion of an academic assignment. I feel that for the past four years I have been in somewhat of a rut in regards to my academic pursuits. Yes, I completed my undergraduate work and loved every minute of it, but it was in all honesty the people that I loved, not the work itself. Occasionally, I would find myself in a class with a professor that I was driven to reach my full potential and to excel in effort and performance, however these classes and in more usual cases single assignments were farther between in time and interest than I now realize I would have liked them to have been. This assignment and this class as a whole truly have rejuvenated my personal drive to work harder and more intently than I have in a long time. I learned that I still have the capacity to organize, to structure, to care about the neurotic little details, and most importantly that I can deeply personally respond to something because I care. I am very fortunate to have had such a driving force this semester. I look forward to exploring this drive in the next semester and from where I sit now, in my future teaching career. This was more than just something that I learned this is a gift that I was granted, and I intend to keep it.