This Unit Plan, titled “Violence in Our World,” was created for a 9th Grade English class. It incorporates many traditional texts read in a 9th Grade English classroom, but puts particular emphasis on current events, politics and ethical issues present in our world today. Our Unit Plan is broken down into 4 sub-units: Gun Violence, Lawlessness, Racism and Genocide – all pressing contemporary topics centered around violence. 7 theories of ‘critical thinking’ are applied to lesson plans throughout the Unit. Activities and assignments demonstrate these theories in action.
Violence is ever present in our world today. News articles tout horrific headline after horrific headline. From the deadly Florida school shooting, to the Las Vegas mass shooting, to the violent Virginia white supremacist rally, to overt racism and culture wars, to the widespread sexual assault allegations in the US, to the mass bombings in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, to the continuing Israel / Palestine conflict, to the threat of nuclear warfare, to the continuing genocide in Darfur, in the last year alone students have been indirectly affected by countless acts of violence that are actively shaping the world they live in. Pelletier and Manna (2017) found a deep connection “between exposure to violence and the mental health, development, and educational achievement of children” (218). Due to this correlation and the sensitive nature of the topics at hand, it is crucial that teachers equip their students with the critical thinking skills necessary to engage with these issues at a higher level of understanding. According to Watanabe-Crockett (2015), when teachers use activities that enhance critical thinking, it allows for students to better understand the “why,” instead of focusing on the “what.” Understanding why acts of violence happen helps students to appropriately respond to the acts, which can then lead to creative solutions on how to prevent such acts from happening again in the future.
To think critically one must have adequate content knowledge and know enough about a topic/issue to recognize it (Willingham, 2007). Our Unit Plan supplies students with the necessary subject matter content and tools to effectively engage in critical thought about the topics presented. Each sub-unit includes 3-4 lesson plans which introduce texts and/or media related to contemporary issues of violence and provide theories of critical thinking in order to adequately engage with those topics. Simply put, “critical thinking is hard” (van Gelder, 2005, p. 42). Repetition is key to strengthening critical thinking skills (Willingham, 2007). By presenting a varied array of lesson plans all which incorporate different learning theories, we are providing students with ample opportunities to practice critical thinking skills. Multiple critical thinking activities also help students’ ability to transfer those important “skills from one situation to another” (van Gelder, 2005, p. 43). Hence students will retain and sustain the learned skills.
In every lesson plan within our Unit Plan, we emphasis teaching styles that support critical thinking through the use of questioning techniques which require analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating, rather than merely memorizing (Synder & Synder, 2008). Overall, in an effort to integrate critical thinking in teaching and learning into the classroom, specifically regarding the topic of violence in our world today, the following theoretical elements were incorporated into our Unit Plan:
Psychology and cognition Lesson Plan #1 (Student Walkout) involves a class discussion on the recent student walk out in response to the Florida school shooting, which incorporates Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill & Krathwohl, 1956) and Stangor’s (2012) concept of how emotions and motivations are an important part of the study of psychology because they guide and drive behavior.
Behaviorist theories In Lesson Plan #2 (Lawlessness and Lord of the Flies), students will be asked to reflect on specific characters and how their behavior affects others’ behaviors as emphasized in Watson’s study of Behaviorism (as cited in Culatta, 2015). This lesson also involves a class activity that incorporates positive reinforcement, tokens of reward, repetition, and small progressively sequenced tasks which enforce the four effective behaviorist strategies for use in the classroom as discussed by Danley, James, Mims, & Simma (nd).
In Lesson Plan #3 (Racism and The Help), a class activity will be used to illustrate Baum’s (2004) discussion of free will. It will also demonstrate if students’ behaviors are affected by rewards and consequences (Culatta, 2015). The results of the class activity will illustrate Thorndlike’s theory that consequences of past behavior have an effect on future behavior (Peel, 2005), and further Skinner’s findings of how operant behaviors and reinforcements work together (Cherry, 2017).
Constructivism and Piagetian theories Lesson Plan #4 (Genocide and Night) includes an activity wherein students participate in a fictional quiz that presents students with a fake but familiar scenario in order to prepare students for a shift from the shock of the unknown to equilibration, a mental state coined by Jean Piaget, a pioneer of the Theory of Constructivism (Fosnot & Perry, 1996). Lesson #5 (Gun Violence and constructivism) focuses on how students perceive certain images related to mass shootings and how they come to understand shootings and the symbols associated with such acts (Fosnot & Perry, 1996). It also emphasizes how students use existing schema to deal with new situations (Piaget as cited in McLeod, 2015).
Vygotsky’s and Bruner’s theories Lesson Plan #6 (Lawlessness and Animal Farm) focuses on Vygotsky’s notion of “neoformation” (Blunden, 2011) through the text of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Studying the text, students will understand why environment and culture play such important roles in our learning processes as human beings, and how a just society of fairness is the most ideal type of culture to strive to achieve, whether it be a nationwide government or a high school classroom.
Lesson Plan #7 (Genocide and Vygotsky) incorporates Bruner’s (2004) life narratives and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (Blunden, 2011) to teach students about genocide. It requires students to write about their existing knowledge of genocide and then write a paper after peer discussions, which reflects parts of their life narratives that are guided by “culturally shaped cognitive” processes (Bruner, 2004, p. 694). The entire lesson supports sociocultural theory and the use of “non-traditional methods of instructing and evaluating student learning” (Peer & McClendon, 2002, p. 139).
Learning theory and social cognitive theory In Lesson Plan #8 (Racism and The Hate U Give) focuses on racism through the use of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the text The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas to illustrate Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1988).
Lesson Plan #9 (Lawlessness and Social Learning Theory) incorporates the four perspectives on learning environments (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, and Pellegrino, 2000), and illustrates Bandura’s (as cited in McLeod, 2016) concept of observational learning, wherein students will be assigned a task with very little direction. The teacher will watch students to see if they are watching others’ behaviors and imitating that behavior. These acts of observation, imitation and modeling are what Bandura based his Social Learning Theory paradigm on (as cited in McLeod, 2016).
Cognitive and metacognitive development / Critical Thinking Lesson Plan #10 (Gun Violence and Under the Gun) requires students to use critical thinking skills in response to a full-length documentary, Under the Gun, and then have them answer questions related to gun violence in response to the documentary. Synder and Synder (2008) conclude that students can be taught how to think critically, but the teacher must educate them on how to do so through adequate examples, known as modeling. It also requires actively engaging students and using effective questioning techniques (Synder & Synder, 2008).
Lesson Plan #11 (Genocide and Broken Memory) holds students responsible for reading, developing a presentation, and questioning classmates, which serves as a mechanism of cognitive development. Siegler (1989) defines cognitive development as “any mental process that improves children’s ability to process information” (p. 354). Students are forced to draw analogies and use analogical reasoning furthering cognitive development (Siegler, 1989).
Intelligence and creativity Lesson Plan #12 (Racism and The House on Mango Street) uses a text and class activity to exercise creative intelligence capabilities by focusing on a group activity which includes art, creative thinking and presentation skills (Sternberg, 2006). Students will create a graphic organizer and storyboard of several vignettes.
Lesson Plan #13 (Racism and Intelligence) focuses on emotional intelligence as defined by Goleman (2000): “the abilities to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others” (p. 2). Through a class activity that requires students to understand a societal issue, relate it to their own life experiences and provide advice to others, it illustrates Mayer & Salovey’s (as cited in Goleman, 2000) model of emotional intelligence, which comprises “four tiers of abilities that range from basic psychological processes to more complex processes integrating emotion and cognition” (p. 4). References Bandura, A. (1988). Organisational applications of social cognitive theory. Australian Journal of Management (University of New South Wales), 13(2), 275-302. Baum, W. M. (2004). Part one: What is behaviorism?. In Understanding behaviorism: Behavior, culture, and evolution(2nded.). Indianapolis, IN: Wiley-Blackwell. 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