Blueprint Progress Report

Shennan in Grand CanyonAs my colleague Beth Slutsky wrote in the last post, I was away for a bit on a grand vacation – literally.  I took a six-day rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  It was magnificent, stupendous, exhilarating, and many other superlative adjectives that I wouldn’t otherwise use.  I highly recommend the trip to anyone who can tolerate not taking a shower for six days (although there were frequent river dips.)

I returned to find Blueprint unit development in full swing.  We’ve released the Cold War unit.  If you’re a high school US or world history teacher, try out some or all of it this year and send in your comments.  We’re going to do another revision of it at the end of this school year.  The more input we get on what works and what doesn’t, the better.

Med World Team 1We’re also working on the third draft of the Sites of Encounter in the Medieval World unit.  We are at the stage where we put together the five lessons that were each created by a different teacher.  Although the teachers had the same mission and processed the same content from the same professors, individual styles and solo design produced great differences among the lessons.  The teachers who worked on this unit created exceptionally fine lessons.  Mary Miller’s lesson on Sicily emphasizes geographical understanding and analysis of written sources.  Erica Aguirre (not shown) designed the Majorca lesson as a group learning experience.  For the Quanzhou lesson, John Muller created a tightly-scaffolded reading-to-writing lesson which takes students through analyzing excerpts from Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and critiquing travel narratives.  Shomara Gooden’s lesson on Mali and Cairo guides students through complex visual and written primary sources with superb graphic organizers and group activities.  For the final lesson on Calicut, Michelle Delgado wove together analysis of primary sources and scaffolds for gathering evidence, forming interpretations and writing an argumentative essay.  I cannot thank these teachers enough for the high quality of their work.

Weaving the lessons into a comprehensive unit involves two major tasks: pulling together the common threads of the unit through all of the lessons and filling content “holes.”  We have identified several holes, the biggest of which is the Mongol Empire.  We’re planning to add a mini-lesson on the Mongols which will fit between the Sicily and Quanzhou lessons.  We plan other mini-lessons as well, on the Black Death and Zheng He’s voyages.  These are topics that transcend the individual sites of encounter and do not fit well into the focus of the larger lessons.  Rather than disturbing the flow of those lessons, we will add one-day mini-lessons between the main five lessons.  We are also thinking about reordering the lessons to put the Majorca lesson later in the sequence, because it deals with a later time period and has connections to fifteenth-century European voyages around Africa and across the Atlantic.  Here is the idea:

  1. Sicily
  2. Mongol Empire (mini)
  3. Quanzhou
  4. Zheng He’s voyages (mini)
  5. Mali and Cairo
  6. Individual research project assignment (mini)
  7. Majorca
  8. Black Death (mini)
  9. Calicut

417px-Haggadah_14th_centAnother important thread that we must draw through all the lessons is the sequential development of the targeted Common Core Reading and Writing Standards for Literacy in History-Social Studies.  Lesson one has to introduce the skills required for close reading (RH2 and 3), citing specific textual evidence (RH1), internalizing key vocabulary (RH4), and integrating ideas from multiple sources (RH7, 8 and 9).  We have to build in research strategies and practice activities (WHST7, 8 and 9), short writing assignments and reading-to-writing scaffolds (WHST4 and 5) to teach students how to synthesize evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources and deploy that evidence logically to support larger claims (WHST1).  We have to create scaffolds that will enable English Learners and students who read and write below grade level to be successful.  Each lesson has to contain activities that build those skills so that students can demonstrate proficiency on the individual research project and the final argumentative essay.

All this will take us a while, but I must say that it is a labor of love.  I’ll keep you posted!

Citation: A folio from the Washington Haggadah, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


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