As an English teacher, I know how tricky it can be to meaningfully incorporate longer books and literature- whether fiction or nonfiction- into projects. Too often they feel like add-ons: thematically related but ancillary to the project at hand.
I found myself thinking about this problem in relationship to New Tech Network’s Global Happiness Project. Approximately 240 educators from around the world have signed up to participate in the project, which has students asking, “What elements contribute to a happy and healthy society?” They’ll use their answers to the question to create and administer a survey, analyze the results, and advocate for a change. It’s an exciting idea- what better topic for our students to think about and collaborate around than happiness?
At first glance, the project might seem like a great one for a math or statistics class. And it is (see my post on data literacy and the Happiness project for a little more on what you might do with the project in a math class). But we Humanities teachers like to think about happiness too, so I looked through the project ideas submitted so far and asked my PLN: “What books make you reflect on happiness?”
Here are some of their thoughts:
For teens- Matched by Allie Condie
For younger students- The Giver by Lois Lowry
The 7 Habits of Happy Kids by Sean Covey
And from Twitter:
— Robyn Salaver (@RLSalaver) January 30, 2014
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
And more Twitter ideas:
— Sarah Field (@sciurius) January 27, 2014
And I’m sure you can think of a million more possibilities!
But the question remains- how do you bring books into projects in a way that’s meaningful and purposeful? It’s a little easier to see how with the nonfiction: these books clearly address the question of what makes a society happy.
But what about the poetry and the fiction? I actually think the answer is similar for fiction and poetry: literature, while it may not provide any pat answers, certainly helps us think deeply about what we’re asking. Two questions you can pose to kids are: “What message does this text communicate about happiness? How did the author communicate that message- what literary evidence can you use to support your answer?” However, this requires that you privilege some of the process of the project, rather than just the product. That is, kids need to see that deep analysis and thinking are as meaningful as completion of a final product, like a survey or advocacy proposal.
Which, of course, is easier said than done. So, a couple questions for you- what books and literature would you use in a project like this one? And how do you help students see the purpose of the kind of deep thinking about a theme required to read literature?