Teaching for the Unknown: An Action Plan in Progress

Inspiration can come from anywhere and at anytime. Thanks to the initiative of fellow cult, I mean Cohort member, Nichola Bendle, I got my act in gear and started to really think about what I truly cared about in my classroom. During a recent PD session with Dr. Bev Freedman, where she was introducing us to her training on how to create a culture where faculty feel comfortable having colleagues enter their classrooms and observe their teaching, she mentioned something very briefly, almost as a throw-away comment:

“It’s important that we start to teach our students from the known to the unknown”.

Dr. Freedman referenced Dave Perkins at Harvard’s GSE, and her point was that students need to be nimble learners as they face an uncertain future, one that will require them to likely change their jobs a number of times, requiring them to constantly be in a state of learning, but for a world that is rapidly changing. Our students will need to “learn, and re-learn, and then learn beyond what they already know”, according to Perkins, and I tend to agree. How might I teach my students to UNDERSTAND rather than to simply memorize a concept? Here is my key action plan guiding question:

How might an authentic English classroom environment be the perfect place to help my students best prepare for the unknown?

Specifically, I’d like to focus on two fundamental skills: reading and writing. I want to co-construct activities with my students that will give them skills that are applicable in any environment, whether it’s writing a resume for McDonald’s or completing the rhetorical analysis question on the AP Language and Composition exam in May. I want my students to be passionate readers, who can summarize a complex text in their own words. I want my students to feel confident in their analytical skills, understanding how to identify what matters (and what doesn’t) when evaluating a text’s purpose or tone or style.

So there it is: a fairly blank canvas with a monstrous and highly vague goal: preparing my English students for the unknown. I think this will require research, consultation with my peers and colleagues, and some more specific goals.

If you can recommend some reading for me in my quest to prepare English students to be ‘more nimble’ learners, I’m keen to hear your suggestions!

2 thoughts on “Teaching for the Unknown: An Action Plan in Progress

  1. Hi Brent,
    Thanks for this post and this prompt. To be honest, this is not where I thought you were going to take this post. Reading and writing are critical – they communicate thought and insight, without which, thought and insight lay locked away, or miscommunicated and misconstrued.

    But let me give you some counter-points to your HMW.

    How might an authentic English classroom environment prepare students to engage with, and contribute to the unknown environment?

    With this HMW you contrast the known environment (your class), with the unknown. Instead of the skills of reading and writing, you focus on thoughtful communication. In this way, your work would consist of the skills and knowledge of traditional reading and writing, but also build the skills of creative communication as well.

    Check this out: (an oldie but a goodie!)


    Can’t wait to read more!

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