Over the course of the coming months Common Core will be publishing a series of guest blogs by Emma Bryant, a New Tech High School teacher who will be describing her first-hand experience with 21st century-skills education. Emma Bryant is a pseudonym.
This year, tenth graders in my “21st Century School” aren’t suffering the annoyances that accompany studying poetry, fiction, or even non-fiction texts. Instead, students are writing instructional manuals, describing scientific processes, and using a science textbook to learn literacy skills in a joint English/Science class. No, these students are no longer plagued with requirements to read boring literature ‒ there’s simply no use for it in the utilitarian 21st century.
The process begins with students being asked to design a new piece of science equipment for use in the lab of a fictional company’s research and development unit. Using pieces of information gathered primarily from internet searches, a handful of journal articles, and much team work (95% of class time), students set out to complete their task.
Once the new equipment is created, students wrote about how to use it. With just a little imagination, the students’ “user’s manual” satisfied state English Language Arts requirements. In all fairness, I did not study each and every manual. So who knows ‒ there could have been a real literary gem hidden away. But somehow I doubt it.
Teachers facilitated the development of literacy skills with passages of the science textbook, as well as portions of manuals. Students read sentences on scientific subject matter and details on user instruction. Teachers administered vocabulary tests on scientific terms and instruction manual jargon.
In the end, students created some interesting designs and, to varying degrees, applied basic elements of science to the design process. On the whole, however, science content played second fiddle to other requirements ‒ the use of specific design software, credit for communication and collaboration, and the hard-to-define, but still-assessed, “innovation.” And “English” fared even worse.
With a world of literature waiting ‒ a world of human experience for the reading ‒ it’s a travesty for dry (but useful!) manuals to take its place.