In Language Arts 1, we're examining literal and metaphorical keystones. 


In the past week, we talked a lot about teamwork in our language arts class. Admittedly, this isn't the usual subject of language arts, but our experience in LA1 this year has shown just how much students learn when they work together. For this last block, we're learning about ourselves through working with others. 

To do that, we're taking the literal meaning of the class title and building things with books. One group proposed a book wall that uses the predominate color of the book spines to create a color gradient. Another group proposed making a book dome, again using the color of the spines for a visual effect, and the third group proposed making an arch. Each project required students to devise a plan, assign roles, and carry out the project. 

Teamwork became key in learning how to build their respective proposals, and that meant each student needed to know how he or she could best contribute to the project. A large part of our work this block, then, involves social and emotional learning, from understanding our own strengths to understanding how to leverage the strengths of others. 

At this point, you may wonder how such a class is making good on its language arts goals. The overall goal in Language Arts 1 is to help students become more confident and analytical writers and thinkers, and our writing prompt this block ties into our building activity. That has to do with building a book arch, an incredibly difficult task because of all the engineering and physics that go into an arch that doesn't collapse. We'll need to create enough friction that it withstands the temptation of gravity. As it turns out, the key to it all is the keystone, or what is typically the last piece of an arch that acts as a wedge, canceling out the various forces exerted on the arch.

For me, and for a language arts context, the keystone is a powerful metaphor, one that helps us see what holds it all together. Our prompt, then, is to write a paper that describes the keystone in our lives. Writing such a paper will be personal, but it is also analytical and even literary: students need to think about their metaphorical keystone, explain why it holds such power for them, and understand how metaphor can work in their lives. We'll collect these essays and assemble them in a three-ring binder, which just happens to be the perfect shape for a keystone. Our goal is to use this three-ring binder to hold up a book arch we'll build as a class.

To get there, both in terms of being able to engineer an arch and write a meaningful paper, we'll go through a process of building increasingly complex projects. I take as my cue the lead of the class: we start with the book wall, then move onto the dome, and finally try our hand at the arch. Along the way, we're documenting our process with both media and writing, and we're keeping track of our own interactions, both good and challenging, as we work together on it all.

--Zachary Sifuentes