Thursday, August 21, 2014

EngageNY 6th Grade Module 1, Unit 1, Lessons 7–8: In Which I Find Some (Inappropriate) Content At Last

Unit 1 Lesson 7 is a mid-unit assessment. If anybody had any doubts about the poverty of the content here, the questions are 1–2 sentence chapter "gists" (Can we just use the word summary, please?), review of the challenges Percy faces and the review of the character stuff from earlier. No explicit instruction in mythology.

Lesson 8 actually gets to an interesting point, although a strange one. After discussing what is a hero, which is a fine discussion — I do that too, we go over a shortened list of Jospeh Campbell's “The Hero's Journey” and the process a person becomes a hero? I have to say that this subject appeals to my nerdy little heart, but I have some reservations about the appropriateness of this for early middle school. Joseph Campbell is pretty heady stuff. It's some of the most interesting analysis out there in terms of myths and their structure.

Here's the rub: what good is it learning the steps of a hero's journey when you don't have the content knowledge? The handout wisely uses some movie and book examples the kids might recognize, but I'm still uneasy at pushing this advanced material. What good is it now? Seeing these steps in The Wizard of Oz or The Lord of the Rings is fine, but this is not what sixth-graders need right now.

You want to give them advanced material? Let them read about the Trojan War. There you have the greatest war poem ever telling how difficult and terrible and glorious war really is. Not only will kids learn about Hector, Agamemnon, Paris, Helen, Ajax, and Menelaus, they'll get a sense of war itself. Here's something with deep content that is directly relatable to modern life. I'm not suggesting kids read The Illiad, but they can hear some of the stories. Olivia Coolidge wrote an excellent book on the Trojan War, suitable for this level. Why not that?

And when the kids get this content knowledge, the hero's journey will make sense. The steps will seem familiar and not something tacked onto a story.

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