Mid-week, mid-unit. Lately, I’m feeling like I’m always in the middle of things.

I think it’s in part because once I get a new adventure underway, I’m continually deepening, enhancing, expanding, re-routing, and revising it.

Sometimes maybe derailing it, but for today we won’t “go there.”

I’ve been working with my AP Lit seniors on my latest version of book clubs – this one is on climate fiction. Cli-fi.

To be honest, I only learned that term a little over a year ago at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) annual convention. And like all many *new* things in education, it was really not new, but rather a name for something I’d known in my mind and in books but never had the language for. But the session – well…BOOM. It became a game-changer for my personal teaching and what I bring to my Department to explore.

I had recently added “Eco-criticism” to the body of literary theory I introduced my students to, and – like many of you, I’m sure – I am deeply disturbed by our whole “the planet is on fire” reality. I’m trying to figure out ways to position my students as agents of the change we so desperately need if we are to survive our own species-driven destruction of this precious place.

Imagine it in Mary Oliver’s phrasing…instead of wondering what we we’re going to do “with [our] one wild and precious life,” perhaps we ought to be wondering, what are we going to do with our one wild and precious PLANET?

Maybe then it would become mainstream to care enough to make ground-shifting revisions to our lifestyles?

I digress.

Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

I’m mid-unit, mid-Cli-fi book club-based unit, and I’m falling down the rabbit holes inevitable in my teaching pedagogy. Change is a constant for me there. It’s practically (actually?) one of my core teaching values.

I get in the middle of something and it feels like it’s going well and they’re learning a lot and I get this undeniable urge to make it bigger, to deepen it, to learn more myself, to play with what’s possible.

Cue the mid-unit change.

This particular manifestation of “change” is more of a deepening (read: more time spent in the unit but….is there truly anything – beyond human rights for all – that we should care more about than the health of our planet?).

My students have read their books, and there are four endeavors I collaborated on with a teaching partner to invent for our thinkers. We introduced ecocriticism with a short picture book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (they’ll write their own eco critical analysis of their books to close the unit). We did an extensive prose analysis (cue AP Lit prep / skill development – students chose passages, annotated for author’s craft and ideas, and generated their own AP prose essay prompt. I’ll write more on this soon.), We engaged in side quests to learn more about topics raised in our books. And, we were going to go on to become climate advocates and activists.

For the side quest, we’d invented TWO side quests where there had been one, and students each chose ONE to engage in. They either researched a topic raised by their book (think superstorms, fuel shortages, violence in relation to climate degradation, the health of water, etc.) or they researched actors / actions / agencies working on climate health.

And then…the side quest grew legs.

There are some redundancies, and I’ll refine it again for *next time.* But…I’m not sorry. Because here is what happened.

I realized that while they were researching, the COP28 convention was happening. In their own words, COPs – UN Climate Change Conferences – are the “world’s only multilateral decision-making forum on climate change with almost complete membership of every country in the world.”

And it was happening right then. Like, live.

Sadly, my classes did not coincide with speeches I could stream, but they could explore the UNFCCC website and the COP28 happenings and news. And they could – after presenting their side quests to their peers at what we call “table presentations,” then do a deeper dive into projects led by individuals around the globe.

A variation on a “30 Under 30-ish Climate Warriors” theme was born, and my side-quest-to-the-side-quest began.

First, I invented a reflective / information gathering notecatcher. They wrote about what they learned from their peers. They identified “big questions” a text is raising (we practiced with another picture book – We Are Waterprotectors by Carole Lindstrom this time). They turned to their cli-fi novels to compose questions their book is raising. They spent time on the UNFCCC and COP28 websites to learn what was happening around the globe and at the convention.

And then, they searched for what I started to call “Climate Warriors.” Folks who were leading the way for climate health and hope.

And what was intended to take a day turned into four. Because… they found incredible folks. They expanded their thinking and their awareness. They started to get inspired. And … I wanted to catalog it all, to create a warehouse of inspiration for later, when they’d become climate warriors themselves. They housed their findings in a collaborative “Climate Warriors” slide deck and presented these warriors to their peers.

When we finished that, we went on to reflect on our learning again (I incorporate metacognitive reflections regularly so they’re used to this, but I call out prompting questions while they write anyway – What did you learn? What are you now curious about? What are you wondering?).

And then we searched via social media feeds for climate warriors we might follow and potentially amplify. The shared these with peers, falling down rabbit holes (as I called out further questions – Who are they following? Who follows them? Search for issues you care about, not just people, etc. Notice how more will pop up? See if you can impact your algorithm away from the hallway and cafeteria gossip to bigger issues.)

And now, four days later than intended, we’ll move forward into them becoming agents, advocates, and activists themselves.

I’m hoping the deeper experience with the side quest was worth the four days it took. Like everything we do in the classroom, we’ll see. I won’t have comparative “data” from a “control” / “original” unit to assess. I’ll have to go by how it feels, and their reflective comments that will come later when I ask, “What components of our cli-fi adventures did you enjoy most? learn the most from? find inspiration from?”

And that “middling” type of “data” will have to be enough. I can’t capture it on a rubric for them as I certainly can’t check a box saying, “You learned more because I shifted.” How ludicrous. My admins can’t capture it in a rubric for me, either. Mid-unit shifts are not an indication that I didn’t plan things out properly or thoughtfully.

Things just…shift. Midstream. Mid-stride. Pedagogy transcends plans and time. Learning is a work in progress. As a teacher still learning, I am in progress, too. If I had “perfected” this unit over time, well…it might be perfect. But it would never be as connected to what is happening this minute in a world that is not bound by previous iterations. It shifts. Changes. Is always ongoing, always in the middle. Quite frankly, I want to keep it that way.