Voices From the Classroom: Your Hood Is the World

By Sharon M. Floyd

Teaching across the curriculum has had a significant impact on seventy-seven ninth grade students at Saginaw High School. Three teachers, Linda San Miguel, Suzanne Kirk, and Mary Ann Stange, in three different disciplines, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies, have joined together to develop a unique program that they have entitled, "Your Hood is the World: Culture, Conflict, Change, Survival Skills."

The students in the "Hood" stay together for three class periods. Students change classes, disciplines, and teachers but the theme rings true for three hours. The teachers meet daily in a scheduled "lab" hour to plan and prepare daily lessons. Because of the sense of community that has been established, teachers notice that class attendance and grades have improved. At the end of a recent marking period, the students applauded superior achievement in the classroom.

A good example of the method used to help students in the "Hood" understand culture, conflict, and change involves a short story called "The Most Dangerous Game." The protagonist finds himself shipwrecked on an island pursued by a killer. The students focused on the changes this character needed to make in order to survive. They personalized their study by identifying daily changes that each student needed to make in order to survive in their immediate neighborhood as well as the world beyond.

At the same time in Social Studies the students were led to investigate what adaptations were needed in order to survive in different cultures of the world. In Science the students did an "assimilation experiment" that involved their role-playing how to survive in the wilderness with a shortage of food and water.

Collaboration is a new venture for two of the three teachers. Ms. Kirk has had a collaborative experience in another school district with a teacher who taught in the same discipline area; but this is the first time that any of the teachers have banded together "across the curriculum." One of the teachers used the adjective "reenergized" to describe the effect of this teaching experience. "You are not alone," stated another.

The teachers agree that collaboration is a positive way to encourage and strengthen student learners. These teachers have a class schedule of four classes, one less than a normal work load. The released hour is used as a lab period, which is necessary to help the teachers stay focused and prepare lessons and materials for the "Hood." Without this added preparation time, the teachers emphatically stated that they would not be able to participate.

The positive support of the administration at the building and district level has been profound. A teacher-trainer from the district staff development center is assigned to assist the teachers in their team effort. Her efforts and expertise are counted as essential in helping the program to flow smoothly. The school administration also supports the team effort with assistance as needed.

One purpose of the "Hood" is to create a unified study zone for students. It makes them feel like they belong to the group, instead of the huge population of Saginaw High. Field trips are taken; community speakers are invited in; additional planning has helped to make the "Hood" an enjoyable learning experience for these ninth graders.

Collaboration has been used at Saginaw High School in previous years with teachers in the LanguageArts department working together as well as with other discipline areas. Each attempt has been described as successful, but once additional planning time was no longer available, the interest waned. Even though there are teachers who make a concerted effort to work together, most find the additional work load too stressful to attempt without released time.


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