This is the second year that I've had my 7th graders make Medieval-style illuminated manuscripts from their favorite song lyrics.
Lessons learned:
  • Give students an explicit, step-by-step checklist of what is expected.
  • Give them plenty of time to complete the manuscript (the better part of a week), but only a couple of class periods. (Last year, this went on FOR EVER!)
  • Keep making comparisons and connections to Medieval illuminated manuscripts. It is easy for 12 year-olds to forget why they are doing this project.
  • Use Google Voice to have students explain the symbols they have chosen. This reinforces the lesson that Medieval monks enhanced their text with the equivalent of pop-culture iconography. Several manuscripts, which didn't seem all that well-thought-out at first glance turned out to be surprisingly sophisticated, once the symbolism was explained.
I've been teaching 8th Grade American History at my school for the past ten years or so. This year, due to staff cutbacks, I've started teaching 7th Grade Social Studies as well.

The 7th Grade curriculum is not terribly well defined. The State of New Hampshire has a list of curriculum standards that should be met in the 7th and 8th grade, many of which match up nicely with American History, which means that the 7th Grade content ends up being an odd mixture of topics:
  • Mapping Skills
  • Comparative Religion
  • Ancient Rome
  • Medieval History
  • The Age of Exploration
  • Economics, or Colonial America or maybe Municipal Planning (The last unit is still up in the air)
Right now, we are in the middle of our Medieval History unit, which should - in theory - be easy for me, because long ago, in a fit of naiveté, I actually majored in Medieval History (which explains, in part, my second career in pizza delivery). 

But that's only in theory.

As it turns out, designing a new curriculum from scratch involves an alarming amount of improvisation. I've ended up "punting" more this year than I'm comfortable with.
I have to confess that I've taken the easy way out with what I've presented to my 7th graders this year. I've focused pretty heavily on warfare and mayhem - partially because it's engaging for 12 year-olds, and partially because it's what I'm interested in, myself. But I haven't felt like I've presented a very well-rounded view of Medieval Europe, so I decided to teach a bit about monasticism and Medieval scholarship.

After some basic explanations of the idea behind monasticism (okay - I admit, I just like typing the word "monasticism"), I went a bit into the history of illuminated manuscripts.

We examined slides of several examples of illuminated manuscripts, then I had them read this: