There are so many reasons to love teaching electives. You get to craft an experience that you believe will engage students and make a difference in the direction of their education, their future. You get to share aspects of your field that you care most about. You get to work with students who choose you and your topic, always a plus.
If you get the chance to propose a new elective at your school, the prospect can be both exciting and overwhelming. Out of allllll the possibilities out there, what should you focus on? True crime podcasts? International literature in translation? #Ownvoices YA and why it matters? Puppet theater across the world? Hmmm, these are just supposed to be my opening examples, but I’m starting to want to build syllabi for them. OK, I really must move on to the actual list of five ideas I wanted to share with you today.
If I had the chance to propose five new electives for 2020, these are what I would choose. Hopefully you’ll find some ideas that intrigue you, either to help shape some of your upcoming units, inspire you to write a similar elective proposal, or remind you of an idea you had that you want to act on.
Read on, or listen in to the podcast version below or on your podcast player of choice.
This episode of the podcast is brought to you by my newest project, The Ed Deck. The Ed Deck gives you ideas for your lesson planning in the palm of your hand (instead of strewn across a half dozen social media platforms, web bookmarks, screenshots, and desktop folders). Check it out here.
#1 The Writing Makerspace
Oh Angela Stockman, how I love your ideas around the writing maker space! If you haven’t read Stockman’s books Make Writing or Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesign with Making in Mind, then let me share the lovely core idea of her work. Reluctant writers are virtually always makers. And when they make things, the writing flows much more naturally in explaining and building on what they’ve made. In other words, bye bye, writer’s block.
How I would love to design a writing makerspace, then use it for a series of projects throughout the elective. We’d create elaborate puppets and then use them to write scripts and perform them for younger students. We’d build arguments and then submit writing to contests. We’d build gingerbread structures and set holiday stories inside. We might even try Nanowrimo, moving the events of our novels around on post-its all over the wall, sketching characters in sketchbooks or creating photo essays to inspire our themes.
We would certainly borrow the idea of the “literatura de cordel” from Brazil and string poetry and images, six word memoirs and sketches, booksnaps and text snippets together on fishing line zigzagging back and forth across the wall.
We’d create a maker writing project lesson plan and bring it into the local elementary school. Maybe we’d throw a writing makerspace community drop-in event in collaboration with a lovely local coffee shop.
We’d have so much fun. And we’d write and write and write, minus the usual writer’s blockades.
#2 Modern Communication: Visual + Verbal
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, modern communication integrates the visual and verbal. Students who want to make an effective point in future will need to be able to combine ideas and images, and I’d love to design an elective around this idea.
I imagine a unit on short argument videos, matching powerful scripts with powerful visuals. I imagine a unit on political social media, unpacking how slogans, images and captions work together to play on people’s emotions. I imagine a unit on marketing, looking at what copywriting is and how it works together with photography to make people want to purchase things.
This elective would be a chance to explore unique multimedia projects like research infographics, youtube channel creation, IGTV, and other emerging platforms likely to play a role in business and media for many years to come.
#3 Digital Citizenship & Social Media for Good
Social media does a lot of harm in the teenage world. Yet our students are on it day and night. Wouldn’t it be interesting to show them how social media has played a role in making the world a better place? This elective would be a chance to explore how hashtags can draw attention to issues, how Twitter can give voice to movements, how political change can be effected through online organizing.
This elective would look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in social media. It would be about digital citizenship, finding your voice, and using it for a purpose that matters.
#4 Election 2020
Oh my, the thought of teaching this elective makes me want to get back in the classroom right this minute. I imagine alarm bells are ringing in your head, imagining all the political infighting that could happen in a class like this. All the anger. All the festering resentment in the hallway.
But what if, instead, this elective gave kids a chance to talk about how political campaigns work? How the news media machines affect America? How speechwriters and advertising campaigns play on people’s emotions and dreams?
What if it was about understanding America, not fighting about it?
I’m thinking about a unit debating whether Facebook has a moral responsibility to fact check paid ads. I’m thinking about a unit that looks at how news outlets on the far right and the far left portray identical events differently to their audiences. I’m thinking about a unit on speechwriting, examining speeches as they come out and identifying key characteristics, then analyzing how effectively different candidates use similar tactics. I’m thinking about a unit on political social media. I’m thinking about students starting their own political podcasts, analyzing the weekly election news and broadcasting their own opinions out to their peers.
It’s all still quite a jumble in my head, but I like to imagine you could be a teacher of this elective, or a student in this elective, and not actually show your own political views much at all. It would be about learning to understand how the election works, how campaigns organize and create change (or fail to), how big money media machines control America’s opinions about things. It would be a chance for students to understand something that will no doubt be playing hard on their emotions throughout the fall and winter, no matter who wins.
#5 Online Entrepreneurship
There’s a whole world of jobs in the digital space that appeal to teenagers, but they rarely hear about them in school. This elective would be a chance to explore the idea of being a Youtuber, a podcaster, an Instagram “influencer,” or a blogger. I’m imagining units looking at successful people within each of these online spaces, then doing projects within each related to students’ interests. For example, a student who loved to cook might explore creating a cooking channel for teenagers on Youtube, starting a cooking podcast, creating a food photography Instagram account (complete with amazing captions), or hosting a recipe blog while learning about effective strategies on these platforms and exploring the work of successful role models.
By the end of the elective, students could create business plans either connecting several platforms or focusing in on one, and actually launch a stream of media on their preferred channel.
Feeling excited to propose an elective? I hope so! One of the greatest things about ELA is that its key skills apply to practically everything. So feel free to bust out from the elective norms and follow your own passions.
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