Recently, my students wrote essays about their hopes for their future families, jobs and how they would contribute to society. These essays were a result of my reading Fever 1793 where the main character had big dreams for her life. Their essays were so wonderful that they precipitated the creation of “The Academy Awards for Academic Excellence.” We just had to show off their essays and turned them into speeches. I love when one idea leads to another and great learning occurs spontaneously.
Then, I had another idea…
When I listened to the students’ speeches and how they would contribute to society, I felt they lacked some vision. There were lots of ideas for recycling, taking care of animals and the earth, but did they truly understand how to contribute? Did they know what it meant to “give back?”
Coincidentally, as I was reading the next chapter of Fever 1793 to the students, an opportunity for discussion arose. The main character survived the yellow fever illness and the nurse asked her, “How will you pay back the kindness and help that you received?” This led to my new idea.
I decided my students would research humanitarian organizations on line.
I began with an exploration of the word “humanitarian.” Once we defined it, we brainstormed organizations that they had heard of, but they didn’t necessarily know what they did to help people. Next, the students moved to the computers. I had bookmarked at least six sites that the students could explore. Their task was to explore the sites and choose the one that interested them the most.
I was worried that the text might be too challenging or too sophisticated, but I still plowed ahead to see what would happen.
Each student had a clipboard with an outline of areas to explore. (I found giving the students a clipboard to be an effective way for them to manage using the keyboard, mouse and still have a place to write their notes.) Once the students chose the humanitarian organization that interested them the most, they had to find and record its mission statement/goal, statistics, how they helped, as well as slogans and advertisements. We had previously spent time defining and exploring these concepts.
Initially, the students wanted to jump right in and start recording information. It seemed as though they were focusing on finishing tasks rather than learning, so I took away their clipboards. They were missing the point!
The new rule was they had to read and explore the site without doing any writing - at least twice (different days) to insure they were focusing on the importance of the organization and NOT FINISHING an assignment. I spoke about this at great length. I also required them to discuss what they discovered with peers. I wanted them to process the information! I wanted them to reflect.
Currently, I have allowed them to start taking notes while they research. Once they finish this, the next step will be persuasive essays to convince others to support the humanitarian organization that they chose.
I love that through reading this amazing novel to my class, another idea was born that led to a meaningful integrated assignment.
More importantly, my students may become humanitarians who give back to the world.