Friday, April 22, 2016

Build Subject Area Bridges

Word-nerd English teacher that I am, it took me a while to realize that not all my students love literature the way I do. Eventually I learned to look for ways to build bridges from what students need to learn in English to what they want to learn in or out of school, in other content areas or on their own time. Sometimes those connections are planned into my curriculum, and sometimes they are more serendipitous. But even the serendipitous ones can be made more likely by staying on the alert for what students are interested in and how that might connect with class.

Two stories from this week:

“Are we going to read Shakespeare this year? I don’t like Shakespeare,” one student told me early on in the year. Monday I introduced A Midsummer Night’s Dream, passing out an article on the brain chemistry of falling in love, I asked them to think about how the magic flower in the play might be a metaphor for the science Shakespeare didn’t know, but could see the effects of. The eyes of the student who didn’t like Shakespeare lit up: “This is science?!” (See here and here for more on this unit.)

Later that day another class was trying to wrap their heads around Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” We’d come to the paragraph that reads, “He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.” After some puzzling, one student burst out, “That’s like Hamilton [in the song] ‘Wait for It’!” 

(I discovered this student’s passion for Hamilton earlier this year about the same time I was starting to see articles about the wildly popular musical that just won a Pulitzer Prize. I can’t remember whether I cued into the student’s first mention of Hamilton because I’d recently seen an article on it, or cued into an article because I’d recently heard it mentioned. But we’ve had a number of conversations about it since, so it was a natural connection to make in class.)

Why are connections so important? They not only pique interest and deepen understanding, but also they are what are necessary for solving real life problems which don't come labelled math, social studies, science, or English.

What are your students interested in outside of your class, whether in other classes or on their own time? How do you connect with those interests? How could you?

P.S. If you haven’t heard of Hamilton and you are interested in theater, music, American history, or American young people, you might want to check it out. 

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