Lumping it together with Humanities

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!



YA Book Review: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story

This week I went into school to set up my classroom library. I wanted to get a head start on my room this year so that when I actually go back (August 15!), I can focus on other things and not spend hours laminating, decorating and freaking out about bulletin boards.

One of my goals with my library this year is to organize my books by genre and content, one of those categories being 9/11.

I stated in a previous blogpost how I really want books to do the talking when it comes to the topic of 9/11. I honestly did not know how many children’s books there were on the subject!


In Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story Baskin does something unique in that she describes the days and hours leading up to 9/11. This is done from the viewpoints of a few characters (none of whom ever interact with each other). There’s the family in Shanksville, PA which details the story of the demise of Flight 93; the boy in Brooklyn who can see the destruction from his classroom window; the Muslim family in Columbus, Ohio; and a girl in California whose mother is scheduled to have a business meeting in the towers.

All of these stories give background into what life was life for many Americans prior to 9/11. Then, the reader witnesses what each character goes through during the time of the tragedy. I especially liked the varying points of views, which show students that people all process tragedy differently.

This is definitely one to add to your classroom library or read aloud and have discussions about how people dealt with the events during and after. What were there motivations? Do people still act this way today?

You might be surprised at what your students think.


YA Book Review – Towers Falling

Each year I struggle with a way to teach 9/11. While some school districts have made a place for it in the curriculum, many have not. I was surprised last year when some of my students did not know what 9/11 was. But then I thought, Wait…these kids were born after 9/11. Them not knowing makes sense – this is history we’re dealing with.

Teaching in Philadelphia, a city so close to New York, one may assume that students are more familiar with this monumental event in history. However, that is not the case, as my sixth graders quickly informed me last year. While some knew the basics of 9/11 and others knew quite a bit, many had questions. I soon found myself abandoning the day’s original lesson and Googling lesson plans appropriate for my students. Teaching 9/11 “off-the-cuff” is not ideal and I didn’t feel like it was something I should just wing.

So this year, I wanted to be prepared and work 9/11 into my curriculum. And not just for one day either. While there are a myriad of lesson plans out there, as a literacy teacher, I’m all about novels and working them into my curriculum in any way possible. So I was stoked when I heard that author Jewell Parker Rhodes penned a novel about 9/11 that is geared specifically toward middle school students.

Towers Falling, describes how Deja, a homeless girl living in Brooklyn, learns about 9/11. In the book, she befriends Ben and Sabeen, whose knowledge of 9/11 surpasses Deja’s unintentional ignorance of the subject. The story follows Deja and her friends as they work together on school projects about 9/11 in which their teachers encourage them to think critically. Along the way, the three children learn about history and that even though they are all different, they are also the same.


I love this book for many reasons – the diversity, how relatable it is for inner-city students and the realness  the aftermath 9/11 still has on many people.

While I will always remember exactly what I was doing the moment I learned about the towers falling, I recognize that my students came into this world post-9/11. If this part of America’s history is not in your curriculum, I encourage you to check out this book and at the very least, read it aloud or share it with your students.

How do you teach 9/11 to your students? I’d love to hear about it!