When I obtained my first job as a ninth grade teacher, I signed on to teach a class called “Humanities,” which weaves together literature, social studies and writing. In theory, this seems like a great idea. After all, most history lends itself to literature. And writing? Well, you can infuse writing into anything!
I wish I could tell you that my year teaching Humanities was a success. The harsh reality was that it was a hot mess. I felt overwhelmed with content. I was the jack of all trades and the master of none.
Luckily, the school scratched Humanities the following year and replaced it with separate writing, literature and history classes. From that point forward, I was able to focus solely on my literature and writing sections. Students were gaining more meaning from texts and learning the principles of writing.
Recently, I learned that my current school is moving to a Humanities model for middle school students. I tried thinking of this is a positive light and came up with the following:
- Modules that lend themselves to project-based learning are readily available for use. I’ve used these modules before and they are jam-packed with great lessons, handouts, texts, etc. This saves a lot of planning time creating lessons. However, they obviously need to be tweaked depending on each class, which can add to planning time.
- The history portion lends itself to a lot of place-based writing opportunities. I facilitate a summer writing program where place-based writing is the focal point. I strongly believe that students take away more from experiences if they are immersed in them.
While Humanities classes offer some valuable learning opportunities, I still have concerns:
- Where does formal writing instruction fit in? Writing is an area where my students need explicit instruction on the basics (how to write a sentence, sentence structure/variety, etc.) In a humanities curriculum, it is very difficult to teach the basics alongside everything else that comes along with “Humanities.”
- Book choices are limited. I love choosing class novels based on student interest. However, now all of my novels have to contain a history component. This leaves little room for high-interest novels.
- I’m not SuperTeacher. I can’t do it all – rolling three subjects into one and giving me a module with all the materials you think I need is not only demeaning my expertise, but it’s a disservice to my students.
As it stands, my cry for a separate writing course will likely not come to fruition for my current students in years to come thanks to budget woes. I have considered scrapping reading instruction for the rest of this year and only focusing on writing. I want them to be prepared for whatever next year brings and I’m willing to make difficult sacrifices.
My students struggle with writing. I can’t do it all, but I can give them what I know they need.
Do you teach a Humanities course? If so, I’d love your input!