Going Interdisciplinary in English 8

Long before the Common Core skidded to a stop in 45 states, my Social Studies counterpart and I have been making content doubly relevant by going interdisciplinary whenever possible.

In 7th and 8th grades, her curriculum is set by NYS: American history, all of it. Settings of the books and short stories we choose for English frequently overlap with the historical settings.  ( It is only this year that NYS has created curriculum modules for secondary English, that, ironically, has put a crimp in our collaborative model because the focus of these 7th and 8th grade Common Core modules is on world cultures. But that’s another post for another day.)

My colleague and I share a common take on what we want kids to be able to do when they leave  As content area specialists, we both understand the value in explicitly embedding academic skills into our daily lessons. We have been close reading devotees long before it was Common Core cool. We teach annotation. We teach note-taking. We teach applicable reading comprehension skills. We both agree that gearing kids up for the demands of high school and beyond is part and parcel of our professional responsibility.

What follows will be from the English teacher’s perspective.  I take my history cues from the expert and then build a literary experience around what she will be studying with kids.

For this series of lessons, I knew that the Civil War would be the opening salvo in 8th grade Social Studies.  With that in mind, I started the year with Ray Bradbury’s short story The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.  In the New York Times archives, I uncovered two relevant informational texts to enrich students’ understanding of both Bradbury’s short story and their work in social studies class: Colonel Shaw’s Drummer Boy and Creating The Glorious 54th. The series of lessons spans two weeks and incorporates close reading, small group activities, speaking and listening and expository responses. To promote close reading via annotation, I photocopy all texts so that students are able to practice annotation.

Materials:

student copies of The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, and access to at least one computer loaded withMS Power Point; questions designed to summarize, analyze and evaluate the short story

from the NYT archives: Creating The Glorious 54th  (Glen Henry Bashir) and Colonel Shaw’s Drummer Boy (Ronald S. Coddington)

DVD Glory

Day 1: We start by activating prior knowledge. Kids write down five facts they already know about the Civil War.  I pair them up to think aloud and then we share whole class. Once we have compiled a reasonable list, I turn kids loose in their Writer’s Notebooks where they create a first person narrative account of what it might be like to be on a Civil War battlefield. Though the boundaries in Writer’s Notebook are looser than those of an expository essay, students know expectations:original and critical thinking. Before the end of class, we sample some of their narratives. 

Days 2-3: We read and annotate the short story.  We conduct all of our reading via a modified Socratic method. In classes that are ready for it, we arrange desks in a semi-circle to facilitate conversation.( NOTE: Not every middle school class, every period necessarily is ready for this seating. Kids have to understand the circle requires maturity and focus).  We review the expectations/purposes of annotating text. Here is how we read: students volunteer to read two or three paragraphs.  Though it rarely happens, if there are no volunteers, I get the reading started.  We stop after these few paragraphs and everyone, including me, takes margin notes.  At the start of a text, there are often more questions than comments and I try act as a moderator as kids address one another, stepping in only when it seems necessary.  At the end of each of these two session, kids file an exit ticket summarizing and questioning.

Day 4: Kids walk in and pick up sealed envelopes with their names and the names of their assigned partners on them.  Inside each envelope is a question or series of questions about the reading. I create the questions to jigsaw to summarize the plot, analyze the characters and theme and evaluate the story. All questions demand text-based evidence.  Students use half the period answering the questions. After they get the OK, students insert their responses into the Power Point Presentation/Prezi I have prepared and saved on the network share drive.  Homework: Students prep to present their slides.

Day 5: Students present the slides.  At the end of class, all students complete a post reading response centered on tne concept of courage. I use the dictionary definition and ask them to prove that Joby is, is not brave. They finish the response for homework.

Day 6: Students exchange responses and apply our class created criteria to one another’s papers. They check one another’s work for organization and development, text-based support and language use. Then each student gets his/her response back, has the opportunity to rewrite before turning it in to me for a grade.

Day 7-8: Students watch  selected clips from the film Glory.  They evaluate the film using a graphic organizer.

Day 8-10: Students sight read the two NYT texts and complete an on-demand writing task modeled on the ELA Read/Write extended short and extended responses.

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