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Best of the Week 2019-2020: Teaching to the Future


After comparing the time period between their course's content, English teacher Mr. Garrett McPartland and Social Studies teacher Mr. William Van Why '13 recognized common areas of study within their curriculum to develop an interdisciplinary unit on immigration for their students. "We realized that we both focus on immigration and workers' rights during the first two weeks of this semester," says Mr. Van Why. "We decided to use the experience of Eastern European Jews through the lens of a series of documents called the Bintel Brief, an editor's response to various questions immigrants have about life. We're teaching our students about both past and present immigration through primary sources and literature including the Bintel Brief, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, political speeches, poetry and Chinese, Nigerian and Dominican stories on immigration." By tag-teaming lessons and swapping classrooms throughout the next two weeks, Mr. McPartland will be helping teach Mr. Van Why's Honors U.S. History class and Mr. Van Why will be helping teach Mr. McPartland's Honors English class.

"We share many of the same students, recognized that students naturally make some connections across content in our areas, and decided to be more intentional about creating an integrated experience for them," says Mr. McPartland. "As we brainstormed the possibilities in terms of content, we chose the immigrant experience as a natural and rich point of connection."

After meeting a few times throughout the first semester, Mr. McPartland and Mr. Van Why began planning their lessons and working with other faculty members to come up with additional resources students could use. "Students are learning about the immigration experience in both the historical and modern contexts," says Mr. McPartland. "Through a variety of texts and historical events, we're focusing on immigration into America in the early 1900s. Later in this unit, our students will analyze firsthand accounts of immigration in the 21st century and contemporary fiction from the immigrant perspective. There will be sustained dialogue on what it means to be an American and a consistent focus on improving student research skills."

"I'll be focusing on the historical aspects of these documents and Mr. McPartland will focus more on the literary aspects," says Mr. Van Why. "We plan on hosting a seminar too so students can write their own researched letter from the editor about how to face challenges as an immigrant in the United States."

"Beyond alignment through overarching topics, the interdisciplinary approach is realized through examining the same content from the perspective of each discipline and blending teaching techniques typical of History and English classrooms," says Mr. McPartland.

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