Lately, common core standards have become an issue for fierce debate: particularly in the state of Georgia. Paul Broun, a Tea Party senate candidate, went so far as to say, “I want to abolish the Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever.” Many conservative politicians compare Common Core to the Affordable Healthcare Act stating that congress, “passed the bill” before they knew the bill. Assessments that have been specifically targeted to evaluate a student’s performance based on their exposure to the standards have been scrutinized for being entirely too difficult or poorly written.
I tend to attempt keep politics outside of my classroom as much as possible and teach the only way I know how to teach. I found some validity in common core standards (as about 90% of them aligned with Georgia Performance Standards) and even appreciated cross-curicular standards (RIT) that were added to literature standards. In many ways, it challenged me to try to make the impossible happen: make informational text…fun.
In my “big year out,” a gap year in between my first and third year of teaching at the same school, I taught at a “SIG” school, also known as a school with a few improvement grants designed to boost achievement using funding from third parties. I consider this particular experience absolutely invaluable to my development as an educator. I learned how to find joy in my job no matter the circumstance. I learned how to take in criticism that is constructive and purge criticism that is destructive. I developed a thick skin. Most importantly, I found a way to become creative with instruction inside a very structured box.
As noted earlier, the chief complaint of literature teachers with common core standards is the addition of a new domain “reading informational text.” It seems that in addition to the laundry list of skills we are required to teach our students, it became our responsibility to teach text from outside of our discipline, like science. One of the suggested texts was The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.
In an attempt to integrate technology, differentiate instruction, and present information that may otherwise be bland, I created a Zunal WebQuest for students to explore before beginning the novel and use throughout the unit as a resource. The description is as follows:
Unit Title: Murder, Malaise, Madness, and Mystery (the spread): A study of the Hot Zone as literature
Description: A ninth-grade language arts cross-curricular webquest that covers Richard Preston’s biography, literary analysis of The Hot Zone, basics of a virus, history of the spread of the Ebola virus, and covering literary terms dealing with non-fiction and extended metaphor as well as introducing non-fiction writing techniques. The webquest culminates in a student generated Glogster.