Expectations for Student-Led Units

Student-led units are an opportunity for all of us to learn more about how to do justice, inquiry, action teaching in secondary English. The goal is to help everyone learn how to develop integrated, thematic curriculum relevant to important issues in the world and to the lives, cultural knowledge, and linguistic background of secondary students.

Sudent leaders in our class are responsible for selecting reading, developing class activities, creating assignments, and evaluating student work. Teaching in this class should have the highest, broadest, and most ethical expectations, be directed to the needs and interests of the learners, and involve the best pedagogical practices. These units are not intended to be "practice" teaching where you try to create lessons appropriate to secondary students and your classmates try to "guess" how secondary students might respond. Instead, this is real teaching where your students are your colleagues, all aspiring teachers planning to be certified as English teachers. You have an opportunity to significantly influence their understanding and approach as classroom teachers, and, in turn, influence literally thousands of students.

Group learning, team teaching, and collegial collaboration are a crucial part of teaching. Facilitating student learning calls for a deep understanding of the group learning process. Thus a primary objective of English 4800 is for all of us to develop and practice our collaborative knowledge and skills. Preparing teaching units that teach other aspiring teachers about inquiry into meaningful subjects will require extensive time and effort including wide reading, library and internet research, writing, group discussion and decision making, and assessment activities. All students are expected to take responsibility for group work while cooperating with others in a professional, mutually respectful, supportive, and critically reflective way.

Your group should start meeting immediately, during the first weeks of class, and then meet regularly, I suggest at least once a week. The group that goes first (and second) will need to be immediately active. Take note, below, of the date by which you need to be prepared to meet with the professor to go over your plan.

Perhaps to a greater extent than in any class you have previously taken, you will take on the role of teacher and be responsible for the learning of your classmates. What do they most want and need to know? How can you create active learning experiences that will facilitate their understanding of how to help their future students inquire deeply and thematically into literature and the issues it raises? How can each group challenge itself to provide us with innovative and meaningful content and learning experiences?

Focusing the Topic and Selecting Materials

The topic you start with is likely broad and encompassing; complete courses could be and are taught on it. As a student leader you are responsible for learning your topic well, and, then, as a collaborative group, making decisions about how to limit and focus the topic in order to be most effective. Don't ask yourself, "What does the professor want us to do on this topic?" Ask instead: "How do we think we could we best prepare students in this class to teach on this topic?"

You may want to give your unit a new, more focused title. Each class meeting should also have its own title or subtitle and there should be a clear and logical development from one class meeting to the next evident on the syllabus your group creates. While very interesting class activities and readings may spring immediately to mind, it is better to start by establishing learning objectives about your topic and then develop reading and activities that will best attain those objectives.

Every unit should require at least 250 pages of reading and must include each of these elements:

  • one or more selections from a standard 7-12 literature textbook (see library ~LT5111.H25 or the Internet to find actual textbooks - textbooks today always have associated website with tables of contents, teaching materials, etc.);
  • one or more articles from the English Journal;
  • supplimentary literary text(s) that could be taught in a secondary English classroom (7-12) usually for student purchase, such as YA novels or other literary works in multiple genres;
  • examples of mass media, film, visual, oral, multimedia, or digital texts tied to the cultural studies content;
  • additional reading of "informational text," such as books, course pack, essays, articles, websites, archived texts, etc. that your group considers relevant.

It is fair to expect 4800 students to read at the rate of about a novel per week during the Fall or Spring semester. It is also fair to expect that given sufficient advance warning students in this class can rent and view commonly available videos outside of class time. Book orders and packets need to be approved in advance by the professor. All units are expected to include book orders and packets, yet the expense of each unit should normally not exceed $20. Group leaders will need to order books and prepare copied packets or on-line resources in sufficient time so that they can be readily available to all class members.

Don't be afraid to ask classmates to purchase books or materials that are likely to be of professional value! The capstone course in your major, English 4800 is one of the most important classes preparing you for your profession. Developing professional knowledge, materials, and personal libraries are part of getting ready to teach English. Try not to exceed the $20 budget, but remember that for your classmates on tight budgets (most everyone!) there are options including borrowing materials from libraries, sharing with other class members, reading literature straight from the web, etc.

Creating Assignments

In addition to extensive reading, all units should include significant writing. It is assumed that students in 4800 have taken 4790, are familiar with teaching the writing process and are ready to utilize a variety of writing strategies in their pedagogy. Three to four pages of polished writing per week is fair to ask of students in 4800 (in a Fall or Spring semester, twice that in Summer). This can be in the form of narrative or persuasive writing, lesson plans, journals, free writing, etc. It is fair to expect work to be typed and well-edited.

Integrating technology, such as online discussion boards, the classroom websites, the Internet, virtual world activities, blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking tools, educational software, etc. is required. Experiment with our wireless-laptop computers, use websites, data projectors, powerpoint, digital story telling projects, video, etc. Consider designing activities or making assignments using some of the most cutting edge on-line literature lesson ideas, digital archives, virtual worlds, etc. Your leadership team should create an on-line syllabus with links to appropriate sites and activities, perhaps using Wix. Here is a sample student-led unit website from a previous class (notice that to see the syllabus on this site you download it as a Word document from a link).

Help prepare future teachers to work with diverse classrooms that include a variety of academic skills, cultural backgrounds, ELL and special needs students. How can the teaching you envision be be individualized, draw on groups, and inspire all students?

Models of excellent assignments/projects should be shared with the class. Student group leaders should be mindful of the need of all students to prepare rich portfolios for teaching and should find ways to encourage students to benefit from each other's work.


Students are encouraged to develop authentic forms of assessment that foster meaningful and ongoing learning. Expectations for assignments should be clear in advance. A variety of components may be involved in determining the grade for each unit, and careful and thoughtful experimentation is encouraged. Self-evaluation should be fostered.

While there should be clearly stated minimum expectations, assignments should have no "top"-- students should be encouraged to take projects as far as they would like to.

All major or unit assignments that are to receive a letter grade must be read by at least three student leaders who must all participate in the grade decision. Work should be returned to class members promptly and grades reported to each student and to the professor no more than 10 days after the end of the unit. Groups are responsible for setting their own late paper or make-up work policies.


Before each unit begins student leaders need to provide the class with a syllabus for their unit which explains the focus of the unit, the learning objectives, materials that need to be purchased, and clearly spells out what reading/ assignments/ homework is expected, when it is due, and how it will be evaluated. (As indicated above, this syllabus should be available on-line.) You want to be clear about what the other students are expected to do - one group made a short video that went along with the syllabus; that seemed like a nice idea.   

A rough draft of the syllabus needs to be approved by the professor as soon as possible after a tentative syllabus has been created, at least two days before it is handed out to the class in a meeting attended by all group members.  All students in the group need to attend this meeting which will usually last about 90 minutes. The discusion will include a detailed review of the tentative syllabus which should include all the items below. Student leaders should plan time after this meeting for continued syllabus development and fine tuning before it is handed out to the class.

At this meeting student leaders will be asked first for:

1. A list of relevant objectives for the unit targeting what the future English teachers in the class will learn.

2. Titles, related to the goals, for each day the group is teaching.

3. Reading and homework for each class meeting.

4. A detailed plan of activities for each class meeting that includes how many minutes each activity is expected to last.

5. Discussion or writing questions for any discussion or writing activities.

6. A description, perhaps including a rubric, for the final project.

7. A rubric for determining student grades for the entire unit.

All student leaders are expected to take leadership roles in all aspects of every lesson. It is not acceptable to simply divide up the days giving one day to each student leader; real team teaching is expected and will produce better results. All group members should share in leadership roles in large group and small group activities, outside of class as well as in front of the class. As much as possible decisions should be reached on a consensus basis. Meetings to plan group teaching that one or more students can not attend are likely to lead to disagreement and frustration. Find times to meet when all members of your group can attend -- and be sure to attend scheduled meetings.

Student leaders are expected to reflect together on their teaching, preferably after each teaching session, and to revise lesson plans when necessary and appropriate. If the equipment is working properly, at least once during the unit, leaders are expected to use the recording equipment in our room, create a recording of at least 40 minutes of class activity, and view and discuss the recording together.

At least 15 minutes of the final class meeting should be focused on a whole class evaluation of the student-led unit and should include a written evaluation, perhaps using likert-scale measures of individual aspects of the unit, completed by all class members.

At the first class meeting after the unit is completed group leaders should turn in their self-evaluation.

Student leaders are encouraged individually and collectively to consult with the professor often and at any time.

Created by: allen.webb@wmich.edu
Revised Date: 8/22