English and Social Studies combine
At ASP, our Grade 8 students work with challenging material across all subjects, and have the opportunity to discuss current and historical issues in their Advisory classes. Most years, springtime in our Grade 8 Social Studies class is focused key research skills that will serve them when they move to Grade 9, and down the hall in Grade 8 English, students are developing their writing skills by learning to acknowledge opposing viewpoints when they write argument essays, or position papers.
This year, with our campus closed and students engaged in our full-scale distance learning program, Grade 8 teachers Ms. Johnston and Ms. Pavic combined forces to blend the research skill-building and position paper projects in order to deepen students' learning, extend their focus on the social/global issue of their choice, and further ground their learning in a symbiotic, interdisciplinary educational experience.
Beginning in mid-May, Ms. Pavic opened the unit on position papers within the familiar Teacher's Reading and Writing Project mini-lesson framework. Students eagerly wrote initial position papers to help establish a baseline of their skills, and to get feedback from Ms. Pavic on where they had opportunities to grow throughout the unit.
The students then began to consult mentor texts as a group, and listened to an article that spoke both for and against increased gun control among teenagers in the United States.
Then, the students split into breakout rooms on Zoom to discuss how the arguments were presented, and to consider questions like, "why do people think a certain way and how does the way one grows up influence how they think?" Students also addressed the question, "How does tradition build someone's perspective?"
The students then picked books to read in book clubs, each revolving around social issues from around the globe. The titles included, "When I was Puerto Rican," "Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines," "Being Jazz: My Life as a Transgender Teen," "The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water," "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," "I am Malala," and more. The groups reviewed the books on their shared Padlet, which you can read through to learn about how they analysed their books.
As students began working on their essays, they received mini lessons each class on how to grab their readers with their introductory paragraphs, how to weave different facts and primary sources into each paragraph, and finally, how to present and acknowledge the opposing viewpoint to the one they had taken.
During the second half of each block, the students checked in with Ms. Pavic, who regularly read, commented on, and discussed the students' essay progress with each student.
Meanwhile, in Social Studies with Ms. Johnston, the students discussed their books in small group sessions, and began searching for 12 varied sources with which to support the argument they had chosen to make in their position paper. They incorporated an IB evaluation framework in order to narrow doing the sources to at least six, high-quality materials, and learned how to construct a formal bibliography.
Throughout the process, Ms. Johnston and Ms. Pavic both gave feedback on their research and offered both advice and support as students searched to find primary source materials.
The six final sources students evaluated were used as direct references in their paper, either by direct quote, or paraphrased citations. They learned how to embed sources using hyperlinks and footnotes, with the goal of structuring their position paper like an editorial that one could read in publications such as the New Yorker or the Washington Post. At the end of the project, the students added their formal bibliography into their position paper for their readers (and teachers!) to consult at the end of the document.
Finally, during this last week of school, the Grade 8 students are collaborating within their book clubs on a final project. This creative endeavour helps the students engage with reading more non-fiction,
With these students on the cusp of their promotion to the Upper School, they will be expected to write historical analysis, formal arguments, and essays that prepare them for university and college settings around the world. This blended humanities project is the perfect stepping stone to the expanded interdisciplinary work that they will take on next year.
You can take a look at the students' papers and see if you find yourself convinced by any of their arguments!