I. Implementing Institute Materials into the Curriculum
Following the close of the Institute in August, there was very little time to put the large quantity of materials to use. I brought everything to school, books, notes, lesson plans, and even my journal, then used parts of several days to sort, punch, and index all standard paper into a series of loose-leaf notebooks. Any special papers, e.g., maps, went into file folders. I made some notes of material to return to, lesson plans with immediate application, and, reluctantly, those materials that wouldn’t be useful without enormous adaptation. Then the school year began, and with it a year-long struggle to add something to a curriculum already full.
II. Outcomes of My Teaching
It was clear from the beginning that the area of environmental history had only limited application to my teaching fields, French, Spanish, and sophomore English. It was only in the latter area that I decided to apply what I had learned. First semester passed before I was able to find the space for what was to be done, but I began in areas having something to do with writing and reading, the two areas emphasized in the course. During the first semester, I probed the ability of my sophomores to read and write. By second semester, they had become accustomed to reading and writing assignments keyed to certain days of the week and independent of the text. Now with the space I needed, I introduced subjects related to the environment into the writing assignments. For cued writing, I gave my students weather, conservation of natural resources, water mining, and the exploitation of the land versus the need to farm for a living. I asked students to read and respond in writing to some of the articles which are beginning to appear in our regional newspapers as a result of the drought now shrouding our area. I showed them newspaper photographs of an old woman sitting on a sand dune where her wheat field lay buried, a man pointing at a map of areas without rain, and a farmer poking at a shriveled plant with his finger and asked them to write stories about the human drama that might be behind these pictures. I had them write papers about their futures, considering the possibility that the Ogallala Aquifer would not be there for their use. I planned to have each student find and interview a resident who had lived here during the Dust Bowl, but ran out of time thanks to track season and the ravages of the system-wide testing program.
III. Rating My Success
It is only a reflection of pessimism to dwell on the difficulties inherent in implementing any new ideas. Those of us who work in public education know that there is usually enormous resistance to any innovations that have not started at the top. But most of us are used to that and usually respond as to any challenge: we use time, energy, available resources (often our own), creativity, salesmanship, diplomacy, and compromise. My own situation was no exception.
Although I can only report a good beginning, I believe the results are promising. The students I worked with this past year were surprisingly well-informed about environmental issues. Their attitude toward addressing some of the problems facing our civilization in general and our region specifically was much better than I had anticipated, even though few tenth graders will actually choose to write about anything; they would much prefer to talk about it, so we did some of that first. I have saved several sets of papers that were handed in so that I can refine my assignments for subsequent classes.
While the results were a compromise, they were more often than not worthwhile. Like a certain rural preacher once reported to his congregation, “We ain’t like we want to be. And we ain’t like we ought to be. But at least we ain’t like we was!”
Overview: This lesson is designed as a discussion/composition exercise developed from Samuel Hays’ lecture on the developing stages of a city and the different problems to cope with along the way.
Connection: Applicable to English classes in the high school.
Time Required: Varied. As planned, several class periods to develop the stages.
Materials: Ordinary seating and writing materials. Variations might require materials to make maps.
Objectives: Students will develop discussion, writing, and organizational skills while learning to contrast differences, advantages, and disadvantages of rural and urban living.
Body of Presentation: As per Number 8, Procedures.
Assessment: Students graded on teamwork, composition skills.
Extending: I believe special projects will work for slow or gifted, e.g., research projects, interviews, art projects, and maybe a field trip to a larger city.