Curriculum Should Not Be Set in Stone
Change can be hard. Whether you have been in the classroom for years and are accustomed to your routine or are early in your career and just appreciate the things that work, the notion of change can be downright scary. With the 2020-2021 school year in full swing, change seems to be the only constant. It’s actually true for any year: every class is different than the one that came before it – different mix of personalities, different interests, different dynamic. Change is always happening around us; we just need to notice it. Given the massive change of this year, though, it may be the perfect time to experiment with your novel selection, especially since some learning is self-directed by students. Below are two simple changes you may want to consider as you embrace a year of change.
Out with the Old | In with the New
Have you taught [Insert Title Here] for over a decade? Could you recite chunks of its narrative without looking? Or know that one typo on that one page? Most importantly, do you feel uninspired and bored after all these years teaching it? If feelings of boredom are surfacing, it might be time for a break. This break does not have to be permanent. Stepping back from a novel for just a year can be all you need to return to it with fresh eyes and teach it with a whole new perspective. You won’t know until you try, though. So, pick one book to shelve, and experiment with a new book in its place. In this instance, “old” means a book you have taught for years, while “new” means one you haven’t taught before. A “new” book can even be a classic you have yet to actually teach in your classroom. After teaching the new novel, take some time to reflect. Did the book create space for a rich, thoughtful experience for my students? Did we like reading and learning with the book? Should this novel be part of the larger curriculum? In the end, you may find a new novel is just what is needed to inject fresh creativity and inspiration. It very well may raise new thoughts and new perspectives that reverberate across all your other novels.
No Books for a Unit
Wait, what? Isn’t this article series about teaching novels in the classroom? You are correct! But teaching novels all day, every day can be daunting. Book units require plenty of effort to execute, including countless hours of preparation, careful selection, and access to the books themselves. Sometimes we – teachers and students alike – need to step away from books for a little while in order to come back to them with fresh eyes. These moments are perfect for poetry, a play, or a short stories unit. Students are still reading complex texts, and you can still facilitate meaningful learning. Think of it as a step back in order to take two steps forward. Injecting different genres of this sort, like trying out a new novel, can re-invigorate the rest of your curriculum. The stylistic choices of those authors can serve as a useful reference for making meaning out of other pieces of fiction. Meanwhile, the themes raised can speak to all the others you have covered, just delivered in a different way. And that’s the point.
In the end, changing the texts you teach – even if only for a unit – can change more than just those weeks. It can change the whole year. It can be a way to generate new ideas, new perspectives, and new space for unique voices in the classroom. You’re adding a new element to the classroom conversation, and its voices will not fade once the unit is over. It can echo across your conversations throughout the year. It’s like when students share an idea you’ve never considered: all it takes is one novel thought to see everything differently. A change in text can be that spark; it may just be the book that helps reveal a fascinating picture for you and your students you didn’t even know was waiting to be discovered.