Yes! I got it!
All of these phrases come from students when they ‘get it’, when the light bulb has been lit, when they’ve finally figured something out. They describe the glimpse of real-time learning teachers strive for every day in their classrooms. These are moments teachers work to see, to witness in their students in every lesson, every activity.
However, these moments are sometimes hard to find, hard to catch, and hard to create in the classroom. Educators are perpetual students themselves, seeking to better their classrooms for their students and their communities so that more of their students experience these flashes of learning. The question arises at every meeting, every seminar, and every conference: how do we, as teachers, help facilitate more of these moments?
This year, MPA has sought to create a learning environment that will allow students to experience more of these moments in the classroom by integrating our English and History curricula more closely between disciplines. With this in mind, MPA Middle School English and History teachers chose novels, poems, plays, visual media, textbooks, and projects that help bridge the two disciplines, which will link the material they are learning together in a dynamic way.
Our goal is to give students not only content knowledge, but also the space and opportunities to make close connections between the literature they are reading and the history they are learning. Those ‘Ah Ha!’ moments increase in number when students can see that history is the retelling of past lives, and the literature they are reading is a reflection of those lives. Making clear, relevant connections between the two disciplines deepens understanding and builds comprehension and retention.
Currently, students in the 6th grade are reading a young reader’s version of the Epic of Gilgamesh and simultaneously learning about the civilization of Sumer (ancient Mesopotamia) where this great story takes place. Meanwhile, students in 7th Grade English are reading Anna of Byzantium, and concurrently making connections from the medieval Crusades described from the main character’s point of view and the historical events of the Crusades about which they are learning in 7th Grade World History. In addition, while students in 8th Grade English are reading Esperanza Rising, a story of a young Mexican girl forced to immigrate with her newly widowed mother to the United States in the midst of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, they are learning about Mexican cultural traditions, such as the creation of yarn dolls, and the plight of migrant workers in southern California during this period. Later in the year, 7th and 8th grade English classes will read A Long Walk to Water, which describes the struggles of young children in southern Sudan, and will link together the issues concerning that country and the larger continent of Africa being discussed in 8th Grade World Geography and 7th Grade World History.
Relating people, places, and events in history to the characters, settings, and conflicts in integrated literature will build a network of learning that will carry them into Upper School classes, and later help cement a foundation of knowledge that will endure through college.
By Sandra Burgess
Ms. Burgess teaches Middle School English.