Hi, I'm Erin, and I teach English. This portfolio chronicles my educational accomplishments. You can e-mail me at ekkross@gmail.com.

Learning Environment

Friendship and Acceptance Unit Plan

Class Description

The unit is for a racially diverse 7th grade Language Arts classroom with a roughly equal gender split of 12 girls and 13 boys; 4 Hispanic, 3 African-American, 1 Chinese-American, and the remaining 17 are Caucasian. About 7 (2 girls, 5 boys) of the children are reading below their grade level, while about 5 (3 boys, 2 girls) are reading above. The remaining 13 students are reading at a 7th grade level. There are two students with special needs as a result of learning disabilities in writing and reading. The students are generally strong in terms of their social interactions, which is shown in their success during group work activities. Some of the students who are reading above or at the 7th grade level are gifted writers, two of the "average students" are skilled artists, and still others have their strengths in their social studies. Many of the students reading below their grade level have shown some proficiency in math and science. Their weaknesses can sometimes be seen when reading aloud and several of them have problems concentrating at times and therefore struggle with comprehension.

The class schedule is 50-minute periods Monday through Friday. We will have access to a computer lab to use for typing essays. We will also have a full classroom set of Freak the Mighty.

Unit Rationale

I begin this unit with emphasis on the novel, Freak the Mighty, so that I will be able to use it as a strong example of the friendship and acceptance themes I want to communicate to my students. I will use this book to examine plot, characterization, and themes. During the initial days of the unit, I will also present my students with important vocabulary in order to ensure that they both understand their required reading as well as any new words for use in their linguistic development. I will have students bring in their own examples of poetry, songs, or stories that talk about their ideas of friendship and acceptance in order to further connect these themes to their own lives. Students will be exposed to three different prewriting styles for use on their final assignment as well as in any future writing they will do. After they are presented with all of these tools, I will give them a large amount of time devoted to organizing, revising, editing, and conferencing on their final writing assessment. Because I will be drawing direct connections between each of the steps throughout this long writing process, they will be able to better understand how to approach writing assignments in a way that helps them achieve successful results.

This unit offers the opportunity for students to learn or improve in their ability to understand and apply basic literary and language arts concepts like note taking, theme identification, plot diagramming, characterization, and vocabulary. These are skills that every student should have some handle on. It also offers students whose strengths lie in the arts the chance to use their artistic and other creative skills through activities like recreating the cover of the novel, which can help students with their visualization abilities, and the final assessment during which they are able to write a story rather than a standard essay. I think that by giving students the chance to write something more enjoyable than a typical essay they will be exposed to the idea that their lives do, in fact, have something substantial and important about them. This importance is proved by the fact that their personal narratives are placed at an equal level of value with essay writing. I also feel as though giving my students an option for their final assessment sets them up for success. Many students are fairly aware of their strengths, and all are very conscious of their likes and dislikes at this age, and so, giving them the option of writing creatively or logically, gives them more control over their success. Choices like this are also effective in a classroom full of students who are searching for more autonomy because they are able to exercise their decision-making skills and show their maturity level in an environment where they have very little risk of failing in his pursuit of independence.

I have chosen to use the theme of friendship for this class because they are coming from such a strong social skill set. Friendship is an issue that is important to these students and allows for a book like Freak the Mighty, which has a heavy focus on this particular theme, to relate to their individual lives. I think that this novel, and the poems I would teach give these students something to directly relate to. It is important for people in this age group, who are developing such a large part of their identity, to understand that they mean something as individuals, and that their experiences are not exclusive to them. By seeing other authors and characters feel and think similar things to themselves as 12 and 13 year olds, they can feel validated and perhaps even more mature. I also think that this allows for students to have some sense of personal social responsibility. Through examining the importance of being a good friend and accepting people, they will see the correlations in their own community. Hopefully, this will inspire an urge in them to be conscious of their behavior towards others and strive to be accepting, loving individuals in and outside of my classroom.

When I was creating my class, I wanted to incorporate the idea of acceptance into my unit plan because it is an essential part of friendship and it is an issue that is constantly present in these students' lives. The ability to accept others regardless of their differences is so important for young people because they are in a position to truly learn from the intolerance that goes on today. However, I did not want to take the typical route and talk about racial acceptance. I hope that by talking about acceptance as a more general idea, discussions about race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status differences can be incorporated somewhat organically. I wanted students who come from a diverse background to see an example of effective tolerance. This is important because it shows these students that they can and should behave in an accepting, respectful, and kind way towards others: a way that actually makes a difference to someone else.

I organized my unit in this way because I wanted to give the students as many tools as possible before they began to write their final assessment. These tools include note-taking skills, an understanding of literary concepts like plot, theme, and characterization, vocabulary words, prewriting tactics, various examples of friendship and acceptance found in poetry, our novel, and songs.

This unit shows a lot about my educational philosophy. It demonstrates my belief that teachers must present their students with the tools and situations they need to be successful in a Language Arts classroom. It also shows how important it is to me that my students be able to directly relate their own feelings and experiences to the texts they encounter in my classroom. I think I tend (or will tend) to choose goals, themes, and texts that reflect my belief that students have a lot to offer their community, as well as a lot to learn from it; specifically through my decision to highlight accepting differences during this 3 and a half week unit. I think this unit also shows my professional goal of helping my students in their pursuit of autonomy as they grow into more mature and independent individuals. I feel that it is very important during these early stages of identity development that students are given the chance to make mistakes in a safe environment where they can feel comfortable taking academic and social risks and are respected for taking the chance at all. Another professional goal that relates to my educational philosophy and can be seen in the way I approach this unit plan is that I want my students to leave my classroom every day and at the end of the year feeling as though they contribute something important to their society; that they are valuable as people. I want them to therefore also feel a responsibility to their community and larger society to improve it every day with the way they treat people and the valuable beliefs they hold and can share.

Learning Environment Rationale