Power: The final unit in Thematic US History

Left with just a few weeks before exams, we finished up a lengthy unit on Economics and Social Class in US history. For the final unit of the year, we decided to focus on power. We provided seven driving questions relating to power in American society and let the students choose which one to research. Then, all of the students who chose the same question got together and planned a 30 minute lesson for the rest of the class. In the end, each student is responsible for submitting an individual response to the driving question, based on the research he or she did. Here is a link to the assignment:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P7aDixVzqzMam7LwapJ4zh_CtbdPKCx-9ihL6NfouKE/edit?usp=sharing

We have wrapped up the lessons, which ranged from more presentation style sharing to more discussion oriented plans. Some groups had five or six students working on a question. Another had just one student creating the plan. In one section, I had students working on six different questions; in the other, kids only chose four different ones. I gave up some content coverage to honor student choice. I put no restrictions on how many kids could do the same question for the same reason. The class with six different topics did not have time for any final debrief or discussion outside of what was part of the lessons. The class with four questions was able to spend the last class this week discussing the work their classmates presented and the different issues raised. For the final discussion, I tried to set up an EdCafe style board. Students filled it in partially, and we began. We had enough topics for several sessions and at least two options per session. Honestly, having fewer questions researched did leave them with less to consider.

We began the EdCafe, a style of student-led discussion that has been successful in my classroom. Then, there was a mini-revolt. One group refused to disband when I told them it was time to move to the next topic. They insisted they were engaged and still had much to discuss. So, I let them go, had the other group join them and abandoned the EdCafe model in favor of whole class discussion. I had shied away from whole class discussion because I knew that students were running out of gas, and I wanted to set the expectation of engagement. It is too easy to opt out of whole class discussion. In the end, my kids rose to the occasion, used my words to make their case, and carried on meaningful conversation. I could ask for no more on the last day before exam review.

How to craft an exam for a thematic course that honors student voice and choice? A topic for my next post…

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